Do Offseason Grades Matter?
The NFL offseason can be a great time. For good teams, the hope of taking that next step into title contention is real. For bad teams, the previous season is history and often, changes are made to point the team in the right direction. Teams add talent in the draft, free agents bounce around the league, and there are always one or two shocking offseason trades. (See Kelly, Chip) Of course, in the world of instant reaction and gratification, we want to know how our team's offseason moves stack up. This is where the internet helps. ESPN.com releases offseason grades with their interpretation of the constant frenzy that are the months of March-August.
The question that needs to be asked, however, is just how good are these grades? Critics love to say that championships are not won in the offseason, but can a great offseason lead to success — or at least improvement?
I decided to look at the last three seasons of offseason grades on ESPN., found here, here and here (AFC/NFC). I also looked at the win improvement the following season. I feel as though this would be better to look at rather than overall success, because you need to give a team credit if they start with absolutely nothing. Finally, I only looked at the regular season. Playoff results are simply too random, and a team can improve vastly from one season to the next or have an early, unlucky playoff exit.
So, with this data, what did I conclude? Does a good offseason grade lead to a better season? Well, kinda. Looking at the whole picture, the answer would have to be no. I compared each team's grade, converted into a number score (A=4,B=3, etc.) and plotted it against its win improvement.
The graph on the top is from 2013, and the graph on the right is 2014. As you can see, the experts did a much better job in 2013, however, the plots are all over the place and do not give nearly enough evidence that the grades are very accurate. However, the experts are experts for a reason. In many ways, they did a very good job.
In 2013-14, they gave out three A's and seven A-'s. The three A's were the 2013 Eagles, Cardinals and Seahawks. The Eagles and Cardinals improved by 6 and 5 wins respectively and the Seahawks improved by 2 regular season wins, and also won the Super Bowl. The 2013 Chiefs, who improved by 9 wins were given an A-. Of the 12 teams that improved by 3 or more wins, seven were given a B or better. Note that the NFL graders tend not to inflate grades too much and the average grade is closer to a B-. Of the eight teams to lose 3 or more games than the previous year, six were given a C+ or worse. The lone D given in either year, to the 2013 Washington team, led to a seven game decrease in wins.
Yet with all these successes, the graphs do not lie. Especially in 2014, there were many misses as well. These misses seemed to be more in the middle. In other words, when ESPN gave someone a very extreme grade, they tended to be right, however, they often missed large fluctuations by giving a team a mediocre grade. The 2014 Texans got a B-, yet improved by 7 wins. The 2013 Vikings were given the same grade, yet got worse by 5 games. There were even a few outright misses, as the 2014 Cowboys were given a flat C, yet improved by 4 wins to 12-4 and won a playoff game.
So looking ahead to the 2015 season, we can enjoy these offseason grades, but must take them with a grain of salt. As a Jets fan, I am excited about getting the lone A this offseason. While the last 2 years of grading say there should be some improvement, I am not quite ready to buy my Super Bowl tickets yet. The same goes for the Redskins and the Packers, the two A-'s. On the flip side lies the Patriots, Panthers, Broncos and 49ers; the teams with C or below can expect a few bumps in the road, but should not be all too worried come September.
To sum up, if I have to grade the graders…
I'd give em a B.