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The best non-playoff team in history

Posted by Doug on May 25, 2006

It might just be the 2005 San Diego Chargers.

If you go by the basic power rating system, the Chargers were the third best team in the NFL last year with a rating of +9.9, which means that, if you adjust for the schedule they played, they were about 9.9 points better than an average team. According to that metric, the Chargers were the third-best team since the merger to be watching the postseason on TV:


TM YR Rating
================
sfo 1991 10.4
cin 1976 10.0
sdg 2005 9.9
ram 1970 9.3
mia 1975 8.9
buf 2004 8.1
mia 1977 7.4
stl 1970 7.3
den 1976 7.2
kan 2005 7.0
buf 1975 6.6
sea 1986 6.5
cin 1989 6.5
kan 1999 6.4
ram 1971 6.3
oak 1999 6.2
hou 1975 6.1
min 1986 6.1
bal 2004 6.1
kan 2002 6.1
mia 2002 6.1
hou 1977 6.0
nwe 1980 6.0

Using this rating system to compare across years requires a bit of interpretation. This doesn't say the 2005 Chargers were a better team (or a worse team) than, say, the 1977 Oilers. It says that the 2005 Chargers were better, relative to their league, than the 1977 Oilers were, relative to theirs. It seems to me that's an appropriate metric by which to judge meaningless trivia like "best non-playoff team in history."

If you click on the 1991 49ers and the 1976 Bengals, you'll see that each of them has pretty strong claim to this title as well. The 49ers were third in the NFL in points scored and fourth in points allowed. The Bengals ranked sixth and seventh in those two categories. They were 10-4, with all four losses coming against playoff teams, including two to the eventual Super Bowl champion Steelers.

But I think the simple rating system I'm using actually understates the Chargers' strength. If memory serves (correct me if I'm incorrect), the loss to Denver in week 17 was essentially an exhibition game, as both teams' postseason destinations were already sealed. Further, the Chargers' loss to Philadelphia looks like a bad loss to the computer, but at the time, the Eagles still had Owens and McNabb and were among the best teams in the NFC. Likewise, there is little shame in their loss to the Dolphins, who were in the middle of a six-game win streak when they beat San Diego.

On the flip side, who is the worst playoff team of all time? Unlike the above, where you could reasonably argue for a few different teams, this one is not debateable. I knew who it was before running the numbers, but the numbers confirmed it. I'll write about them in a future post.

This entry was posted on Thursday, May 25th, 2006 at 4:07 am and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.