How Easy Is It To Fix An NFL Team In One Season?

Man, I probably should have bumped this sooner than now. . .very good look at some teams that turned themselves around in short order. -Chris

A lot of folks on the Daily Norseman seem to advocate a slow and steady approach to rebuilding, as it applies to our beloved Minnesota Vikings Football Team. I have always held somewhat of a contrary opinion, since it seems to me that the very nature of the league makes this sort of rebuilding very difficult, if not impossible, for most teams.

In the post-modern NFL, coaches are given very little slack, and most owners will not hesitate to pull the plug on head coaches and GMs who fail to produce in the first couple of years. This leaves the successive regime with a roster chock-full of players who may or may not fit their system.

The only teams who can afford to rebuild slowly over time are teams with established successful coaching staffs and front offices (think New England). These coaches and GMs know damn well that they will be there to see their long term plans come to fruition, if they so choose.

But GOOD NEWS EVERYONE! it is possible, even likely, that the Vikings can make a single season turnaround. As I was (Christian) pondering the possibility of the Vikings vastly improving their record this season, I decided to look at some of the numbers for teams over the past few seasons. I wanted to examine those teams that have found themselves in the unfortunate situation that the Vikings are now, and see how they fared in the following campaign. I decided to see how often big turnarounds happened, and what the teams that accomplished them had in common in terms of coaching and personnel changes. The results will probably not surprise or enlighten you. But it's May, and you have no other Vikings news to read, so f**k it, right? Join me, after the jump.

I decided to look at teams with 5-11 or worse records. Why, you ask? No real reason. It just seemed to me that 5-11 is the dividing line for a certain level of terribleness. 6-10 seems to be above that level to me, while 3-13 or 4-12 don’t seem that much worse than 5-11. You can disagree, but I had to draw the line somewhere, and I really only wanted to deal with very bad teams. I suppose I could have used MATH to figure out who the bottom quarter of teams were each season and do it that way regardless of actual record, but hell no. I have already done more MATH in preparing this post than I ever want to do again in my life.

I determined that I would begin in the year 2007. That means we have four transitions (for lack of a better term)at which to look: 2007-08, 2008-09, 2009-10, and 2010-11. I figured this would give a good general impression of the recent NFL past, without going back into an NFL world that is too different from the current one. As any good historian knows, "the past is a foreign country" and I wanted results that would apply as much as possible to the upcoming Vikings season.

If you have read this far, congratulations. Here come the stats. I should warn you that I am not a licensed statistician. Please consult your own statistician before embarking on any personal decisions based on these numbers.

30 teams finished with 5– 11 or worse records in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010

Of those 30 teams:

80% (24) improved their records in the following season.

Perhaps this should be obvious, given how bad they were. But the remaining 20% tell more of the story. They were all traditionally "bad" franchises (the Browns twice, St. Louis twice, Oakland, KC Chiefs). So in reality almost every competent team in the past 5 years who has had a down year has improved the following year.

37% (11) followed with an 8-8 or better record the following season. This is pretty good for us. You have a better than 1 in 3 chance to have a legitimately good football team in the year following a disaster.

23% (7) followed with a playoff berth in the following season. Again, pretty cool. 1 in 4 chance to make the playoffs.

The average change overall was about a 3 game improvement (2.93 to be precise)

The average improvement of teams with a record equal or worse than the Vikes last year is 3 2/3 games.

This would (more or less) give the Vikes a 7-9 record. This really surprised me, since many DN posters and commenters have predicted a 7-9 record as realistic for the Vikes this season. I usually subtract a few wins from the predictions of fans, but it seems in this case that 7-9 should be what the Vikings can expect based purely on recent average improvement. However, very few of the teams that made up these averages have the existing weapons (Percy Harvin, AD, Jared Allen) that the Vikings do. Therefore I no longer think that a 9-7 or at least 8-8 is outside of the realm of realistic possibility.

I also looked up some facts about a few of the biggest turnarounds during this period. There were 9 teams who improved by 5 games or more during this period (30% of the whole group). I wanted to look up tons of awesome stuff about all of them, but this post is long enough fer gosh sakes. Maybe if other people are interested, or if they just remember stuff about the teams, they can post it in the comments. Also, a comparison with the current Vikes in these areas would be appropriate.

Biggest turnarounds in recent history:

MIA 07-08 "The Complete Shakeup"

1-15 to 11-5 (+10 wins)

The greatest single season turnaround in NFL History

It didn’t really last.


First year of Bill Parcels (VP), Jeff Ireland (GM), Tony Sparano (HC)

All but 2 members of the coaching staff were replaced


Selected Jake Long (OT, Michigan) with the first pick in the 2008 draft

50% roster turnover from 2007 (highest in the league)

TB 09-10 "The One Year Wonder"

3-13 to 10-6 (+7 wins)


Raheem Morris was a 2nd year HC

Greg Olson was a 2nd year OC



Selected Gerald McCoy (DT, Oklahoma) with 3rd pick in the 2010 draft

Started 10 rookies (first team since 1970 to do so and have a winning season)

Apx. 33% roster turnover from 2009

ATL 07-08 "Sustained Success"

4-12 to 11-5 (+7 wins)

The year after Michael Vick’s dogfighting scandal

Believed to be beginning "massive rebuilding project" (

Have had winning seasons every year since


Mike Smith, 1st year HC (won NFL coach of the year)

Mike Mularkey, 1st year OC

Brian VanGorder, 1st year DC


Selected Matt Ryan (QB, BC) with the 3rd pick in the draft

Ryan won offensive rookie of the year.

Traded picks to move back into the 1st round and select Sam Baker (OT, USC)

37% roster turnover from 2007 (tied for second in the league)

CIN 08-09

4-11-1 to 10-6 (+6 wins)

Made the playoffs for the first time since 2005


Marvin Lewis, 7th year HC

Won AP coach of the year


Selected Andre Smith (OT, Alabama) with the 6th pick in the draft.

Not sure about exact turnover, but in December Coach Lewis said there would be some turnover.

Resigned Cedric Benson (RB) and signed Lavernaeus Coles (WR)

STL 09-10

1-15 to 7-9 (+6 wins)

Achieved more total wins than they had in the previous 3 years


Steve Spagnuolo, 2nd year HC


Selected Sam Bradford (QB, Oklahoma) with the 1st pick in the draft, took Rodger Saffold (OT Indiana) with the 33rd selection.

23% roster turnover (21st in the league)

These ones I did not finish:

BAL 07-08

5-11 to 11-5 (+6 wins)

KC 09-10

4-12 to 10-6 (+6 wins)

NYJ 07-08

4-12 to 9-7 (+5 wins)

CIN 10-11

4-12 to 9-7 (+5 wins)

A final note on the stats:

2009 was a particularly bad season for teams attempting to turn it around. I believe (this is not scientific) that the deeply ingrained institutional shittiness of organizations like Detroit, St. Louis, and (to a lesser extent) Kansas City during this period actually skews these data a little, reducing the overall impression of team turnarounds. My hunch is that if I went back a few more years it would reduce this effect. Unfortunately I didn’t really notice this until I had already crunched some of the numbers, and I didn’t want to redo the math.


The overall impression is that one-year turnarounds are definitely possible and not as uncommon as one might think. They can be either flashes in the pan (like Miami) or lead to sustained success (as in ATL). One thing that a number of these teams have in common is the selection of a highly rated OT prospect in the first or early second round of the draft. Though perhaps not significant, hopefully this holds true for Kalil as well. I am not sure what kind of roster turnover we are looking at for the Vikings this year, but if someone wants to post that (based on predicted cuts) it would be cool.

What do you guys think?


This FanPost was created by a registered user of The Daily Norseman, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the staff of the site. However, since this is a community, that view is no less important.

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