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Sometimes it's too late for an NFL team to change

Change is good ... unless it comes too late in the season.

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For most of the season, change can be a good thing, turning positions of weakness to those of strength or reversing negative trends. But as the season gets later and later, your football team should be mostly set in its ways, and any change to those ways is more likely a sign of trouble. The Eagles, for instance, had allowed opponents to score on 29 percent of their drives through their first 12 games, third-best in the NFL. In the last three weeks, however, Philadelphia's defense is allowing scores on 44 percent of the drives they faced, including half of Washington's possessions. Or consider the Vikings, who had given up seven fourth-quarter touchdowns this season before Week 16, none since Thanksgiving; they let Miami score three touchdowns in the final 15 minutes.

Still, there are teams who would have welcomed that kind of last-minute redirection, like the 49ers, who dropped to 5-4 this season when leading at the half. In Jim Harbaugh's first three years in San Francisco, his teams were 29-4 when leading after two quarters. You can also look at the Saints in their last home game, where they turned the ball over four times. That gives them 13 turnovers at home this season, as many as they had in the Superdome in 2012 and 2013 combined.

And then there's Cleveland. The Browns changed plenty over the course of the season. The offense, for instance, got consistently worse on a yards per play basis.

They also got better on defense using that same measure.

The net effect? A team that stayed mostly near the middle all year long, never more than one game below .500 and never more than three games above it.


Let's examine the performance of two different quarterbacks in the NFL's last six weeks, the time when playoff fortunes can be seized of dashed. Patient A has completed 68 percent of his passes, averaging 7.7 yards per attempt while throwing 11 touchdowns and six interceptions. Patient B has a lower completion percentage (61%) and yardage per throw (6.8) and fewer touchdowns (9), though he beats Patient A in interceptions, having thrown four.

As of today, neither patient's team would be in the playoffs. So who are they? Patient A is Minnesota rookie Teddy Bridgewater, and Patient B is Baltimore starter Joe Flacco. Baltimore must be thrilled to know they're paying 14 million dollars in 2014 for this.


In last year's wild card round, Kansas City receiver Dwayne Bowe finished with 150 yards. In 2014, 63 wide receivers have had at least one game with at least 100 receiving yards. Those players are all very different in ability and experience, but they have one thing in common: none of them play for the Chiefs. Bowe is the only Kansas City wideout with more than 300 receiving yards this season. Cleveland has five receivers who've done so.


The Rams are guaranteed to finish below .500 for the third straight year under Jeff Fisher, and the simple logic would be that St. Louis suffers because they play in the NFL's best division. Interestingly, however, since Fisher was hired in 2012, the Rams are actually the only NFC West team with a better winning percentage inside the division than outside of it.

The solution is obvious: the Rams should petition the NFL to play five games each against the Seahawks, Niners, and Cardinals. (They'll still have to play one non-NFC West game, but we're doing the best we can here.)


- Barring a total collapse against the Packers, Detroit will finish with its best defense against the run in team history, allowing just 3.07 yards per carry through Week 16. That's currently the 10th-best season average of any franchise since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.

- Since the start of the 2008 season, teams that are held below 250 yards of offense only win about 20 percent of the time. In that span, the Patriots are 6-4 when they don't get to 250; every other team has a record below .500.

- Seattle has eight wins by 10 or more points, tied with New England for the most this season. Six of those came after Game 8 for the Seahawks, and across the last three years, no team has more victories by double digits in the second half of the season than Seattle's 16.

- Only one team in the playoffs, or the hunt for them, has allowed 200 total points in the third and fourth quarters - the Cincinnati Bengals. Cincy's been able to survive those swoons thanks to its first half scoring defense, however, which is best in the league with 102 points allowed.


- Though Buffalo mostly managed to avoid losing the turnover battle this year, they finished minus-2 in that column in their loss to the Raiders, dropping them to 1-3 when they finish in the turnover red.

- The Buccaneers need 99 rushing yards in their final game to avoid the lowest total season run yardage in team history. Though that's in part the result of a lack of attempts, Tampa's still looking at its 18th worst year in yards per rushing attempt.

- We were raised better than to speak ill of the dead, so we'll just end with this image of Indianapolis's offense against the Cowboys.