There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about next year. We have two of the best coordinators in the league in Crennel and Weis. Our head coach has a year of experience now and isn't weighed down by offensive coordinator duties. We had what has the potential to be one of the best drafts in team history. For these reasons, and several more, we should expect an increase in the number of wins from last year.
But one of the reasons I've heard for this potential improvement is that we lost so many close games last year, that, had we won those, we could have been a six or seven win team. Against Dallas we lost in overtime off a fluke big play in overtime. Against the Raiders we out-gained them 409 to 166, indicating we should have won. The Browns needed two kickoff returns for touchdowns to beat us by just seven. If one of those returns didn't happen, we would have won. Obviously, had one or two plays gone differently in any of those games, the outcome would have been different. We were about 10 plays away from being 10-6, and yet, since we got so unlucky in those games, we ended up 4-12. Surely we just had bad luck last year, and next year at least a couple of those games will swing our way, and that will be another two or three games worth of improvement.
This argument seems very compelling. That sure is a lot of bad luck to happen to us in one season it seems. But people who put forward this argument are wearing goggles tented so deeply red they have become blinded.
Sure, we lost a lot of close games that were very winnable, but so does every team. The Redskins, who also had a 4-12 record, lost seven games by seven or less points, compared to six games lost by the Chiefs by seven or less. The fact is that, even at the NFL level, the difference between the best and worst teams aren't that great. This means that most games are competitive until the end. It's just that bad teams tend to lose these games, while good teams tend to win these games.
Another point these people tend to miss is that we also won a lot of our games by close margins. In fact, arguably all of our wins were flukes last year. That safety saved us against Washington, The Raiders were one touchdown away from a sweep, and the Steelers only needed a couple more yards to get within field goal range to win in overtime. Even the Bronco game had two interception returns for a touchdown and one of the best running games in NFL history, and we were still only up by 3 going into the fourth quarter.It's just that in these games we got lucky, and in the close losses we got unlucky. In one OT we give up a huge play, and in another OT we get a huge play. There's no reason to believe next year will be any different. Sure, we may beat the Colts in OT because the corner covering McCluster slipped, but we might lose the game against the Browns because Succup missed a field goal in the fourth quarter that would have tied the game. Anybody who believes we will win every close game is delusional.
Don't get me wrong, I think this year is going to be the year we get back to an at least respectable record. With a way easier schedule and a much improved team, I think 6-10 is the worst we can be next year. I am firmly in the optimist camp, and I love to read comments of other people who agree with me to bolster my beliefs. But when people use this naive argument about losing close games, my faith in my optimism is shaken. If optimists like me are reduced to using such arguments, I think to myself, maybe our case isn't as strong as I thought it was.
So this post is just one gigantic plea to stop using the "But We Had So Many Close Losses" argument. You're just making us look bad.