Yesterday, CJ's CIC Josh took aim at Sports Illustrated's Andrew Perloff for his contention that the Cincinnati Bengals aren't for real because most of their victories have come against bad teams. I completely agree with everything Josh wrote, except for one thing: his headline. In calling the easy schedule argument "flawed," he passes up an opportunity to expose the fundamental misunderstanding involved in Perloff's comments.
What do I mean? Just this: consistently beating bad teams is precisely what good teams do.
Let's take a stroll over to Cold Hard Football Facts. They're doing the paywall thing this year so their 2011 "Quality Standings" aren't available, but last year's (and 2009's) will do to show you what I mean. The site's Quality Standings track teams' records against opponents who have winning records, and what they show is that even the best teams are somewhere around .500 against other good teams. There are exceptions, like the 2010 Patriots, but for the most part, making the playoffs isn't about beating the good teams regularly. It's about gorging on your schedule's turkeys.
Take last year's Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers teams. Both finished 12-4 and made the postseason. But they didn't get there by beating the good teams. Each played seven games against teams that ended the regular season with winning records. Baltimore went 4-3 in those games, and Pittsburgh was a losing 3-4. However, against teams that finished 7-9 or worse, they were 8-1 and 9-0 respectively.
Of course, you never hear anyone talk about soft schedules when it comes to teams like Baltimore or Pittsburgh. It only happens in situations like this years' Bengals, when a team that was expected to be bad, or has traditionally not won suddenly racks up some wins. When that happens, it's a "soft schedule." When the Steelers or Ravens do it, it's "taking care of business." And that's the fundamental misunderstanding I'm talking about: winning against a "soft schedule" and "taking care of business" are the same thing.
Right now, the Bengals are .500 against "quality" teams and 4-1 against the gobblers. That's taking care of business. And taking care of business is what good teams do.
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