Right on Schedule

Today’s NFL is overanalyzed to the point where Tim Tebow getting a few extra reps in practice, for example, is treated with more breakdown than the minor detail of the Miami Marlins burning themselves to the ground.

Every NFL game gets discussed, ad nauseam, for an entire week, until the system refreshes for another round on Monday morning.

The immediacy of the 24/7 news cycle demands such short-sightedness that most analysis devolves into two camps: “Team good” following a win, and its equally simplistic “team bad” after a loss. Actual execution and the quality of the opponent are tossed aside as unimportant. Al Davis’ “Just win, baby” mantra has apparently taken over the world.

But saunter back a few steps and take a cursory look at the big picture, and one trend becomes clear: The quality of your opponent is paramount.

For whatever reason, this detail keeps getting overlooked. The 2011 New York Giants were a good team with the capability of getting hot at the right time—nothing more, nothing less. But because they are discussed constantly, their season veered from one polar extreme to the other. Start 6-2? Title contender. Lose four straight? Massive underachievers/choke jobs. Win three of the last four? Dangerous dark horse.

Look a little closer at their schedule, however, and all of these runs were predictable. Of New York’s opening eight games, only New England even made the playoffs. That four game skid included trips to San Francisco, Green Bay and New Orleans. The final push came at the expense of a badly fading Dallas team and the hapless Jets. See the pattern here?

Which brings us, finally, to this year’s Bengals. The teams Cincinnati has beaten this season have a combined record of 18-45. The teams it’s lost to? 31-24. Throw out the outlier Browns loss and Giants win and those tallies shift to 11-41 and 28-16.

The fan base has lurched from manic to depressive and back again, Super Bowl contenders in one week to top pick hopefuls the next. Yet, when put into context, most of the wins were fairly predictable, as were the losses.

This isn’t to make a case that Bengals fans are more or less bipolar than most NFL fans—pretty much every team overreacts similarly. Nor is it to point out that the games themselves are meaningless within the grand scheme of things, or that tactical adjustments have no bearing on wins and losses.

I’m just saying that modern NFL consumption lends itself more to overreaction instead of, you know, just being a fan and enjoying the games. Take a look at the big picture once in a while. A loss on the road to a good team isn’t the end of the world.

And when the Bengals win two or their next three against mediocre opponents and lose one of their final two against above average foes, finishing at 9-7 and in the midst of the playoff race, try not to look so shocked.

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