A Trio of NFL Rags-to-Riches Stories

A Trio of NFL Rags-to-Riches Stories

There is one statistic that almost always comes into play when teams make dramatic improvements in their record from one year to the next: winning percentage in games decided by one touchdown or less. That's no different this year. In 2011, the Colts and Vikings were a combined 3-14 in games decided by one touchdown or less. For Minnesota, that included an 0-4 start, with three consecutive losses in games in which they led by 10 points or more at halftime. This year, amazingly, those same two teams are 14-2 in games decided by the same margin, and one of the losses was by the Vikings to these Colts. History tells us that there's virtually1 nothing sustainable about that statistic, but that's admittedly hard to reconcile with teams that carry themselves like winners and play confident, focused football.

Those wins have also been at the heart of their playoff pushes. The boiling-hot 9-2 stretch that led the Colts into January football saw Indianapolis go 7-0 in games decided by one touchdown or less, with those wins coming against teams who were a combined 36-67 in games that didn't involve Indy. In other words, the Colts went 7-0 against a sub-six-win team every time out. That's the equivalent of beating the 5-11 Cardinals seven times in a row without ever doing so by more than one score.

The Redskins, meanwhile, only improved from 3-5 last year to 5-4 in games decided by one touchdown or less, but the gap between their slow start and hot finish is almost entirely explained by what they did in close games. The 3-6 start that seemed to extinguish Washington's playoff hopes saw the Redskins go 1-4 in one-touchdown games, including the famously unnecessary loss to the Rams driven by that late personal foul on Josh Morgan and blown fourth-quarter leads against the Falcons and Giants. Their remarkable 7-0 finish, as you can probably deduce, has been driven by a 4-0 record in those same close games. That includes comeback victories over the Giants and Ravens, plus a 27-20 win over the Eagles that saw Philadelphia miss a would-be tying touchdown pass in the end zone.

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