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Mason's Mailbag: Promise must become performance

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@betoibarramty

#askmase Football is a contact sport, and because of that I have an idea that a weaker division favors its leader by improving their record without the impact of strong competition. Does having a weaker division improve the likelihood of winning a Super Bowl?

Based on overall performance, it does not. In fact, since the NFL broke into eight four-team divisions in 2002, the division of the Super Bowl winner has sent an average of 1.69 teams to the postseason -- better than the league average of 1.5 teams.

Ten of the 16 Super Bowl winners in that span came from divisions that had at least one wild-card qualifier -- and the 2007 Giants won it all from the NFC East, which had two wild-card teams (including the Giants) and a collective divisional record of 40-24 -- meaning the average NFC East team that year went 10-6.

There is some thought that the Patriots have benefited from a relatively weak AFC East. But in the four years the Patriots won the Super Bowl since the NFL went to an eight-division alignment, the second-place team in their division won 10 games -- above the average second-place record of 9.2 wins and 6.8 losses.

Furthermore, in each of the Patriots' world-title seasons in the eight-division era, the AFC East finished with a collective record above .500 every time. Of course, that record was helped by the Patriots' records in those seasons. But in each of those seasons, the other three AFC East teams won 22, 23, 21 and 22 games -- all of which are above average, since second-through-fourth-place teams combine for an average record of 20.5 wins and 27.5 losses since 2002.

Further, for all 16 Super Bowl winners in the eight-division era, the second-through-fourth-place teams averaged 22.8 wins and 25.2 losses -- in both cases, well above the average. Only three Super Bowl winners in those years -- the 2017 Eagles, 2009 Saints and 2008 Steelers -- came from divisions whose second-through-fourth-place teams were below the 20.5-win/27.5-loss averages.

And to take it home to the Broncos, consider the numbers of the AFC West during their five-season run of division titles from 2011-15:

2011

  • Broncos regular-season record: 8-8
  • Broncos playoff record: 1-1
  • Record of rest of AFC West: 23-25
  • Record of second-place team in AFC West: 8-8 (Raiders, Chargers)

2012

  • Broncos regular-season record: 13-3
  • Broncos playoff record: 0-1
  • Record of rest of AFC West: 13-35
  • Record of second-place team in AFC West: 7-9 (Chargers)

2013

  • Broncos regular-season record: 13-3
  • Broncos playoff record: 2-1
  • Record of rest of AFC West: 24-24
  • Record of second-place team in AFC West: 11-5 (Chiefs)

2014

  • Broncos regular-season record: 12-4
  • Broncos playoff record: 0-1
  • Record of rest of AFC West: 21-27
  • Record of second-place team in AFC West: 9-7 (Chiefs, Chargers)

2015

  • Broncos regular-season record: 12-4
  • Broncos playoff record: 3-0
  • Record of rest of AFC West: 22-26
  • Record of second-place team in AFC West: 11-5 (Chiefs)

In the three best seasons in that span for the second-through-fourth place team, the Broncos won at least one postseason game. In the two worst campaigns for the rest of the AFC West, the Broncos were one-and-done. I don't think it was a coincidence.

@74broncos

#askmase Hey Mase, why are we not extending some of our best players like Matt Paradis before they get a chance to see free agency? Talking early normally gets you a home town discount like the one Chris Harris Jr. signed.

Just because there is no news regarding signings does not mean that such work is not quietly ongoing. While Emmanuel Sanders re-signed with the Broncos in September 2016, other key "early" re-signings happened toward the end of their respective seasons, such as late November 2016 for Darian Stewart, January 2016 for Derek Wolfe -- barely 48 hours before a divisional-playoff game -- and December 2014 for Harris.

That said, the Broncos stand in a different spot now compared with those seasons, based simply on their run of form over the last 32 games dating back to a 2-4 close to the 2016 campaign. While you want to keep players of value, the team's performance may dictate more changes and fewer potential re-signings unless the Broncos make a turnaround over the final seven games of the regular season.

@RalphDoherty1

Do you still think that the Chiefs rank higher than the Patriots?

That's what my power rankings said, so why should I disagree with the results of my number crunching? A general rule is that you can't get into the "Team A beat Team B, so Team A must be higher" trap. Otherwise, if you head down that rabbit hole, you'd have the Bucs ahead of the Saints, and who reasonably believes that Tampa Bay is a better team?

That said, I hope you're not laughing like Steve Atwater did last Tuesday. He lost it upon hearing that I ranked San Francisco ranked ahead of Miami.

Mason,

I am really growing tired of all the talk about how the team shows promise. Our record is a half-game better than Cleveland. Nothing more needs to be said.

-- Bill Neel

I assure you that the coaches, players and personnel executives are at least as tired of that talk as you are. Close isn't good enough, and it certainly isn't good enough when you've used up just about all of your mulligans in order to have a decent playoff chance.

A 7-0 record out of the bye gets the Broncos to 10-6, and since the playoff expansion to 12 teams, 87.6 percent of teams with a 10-6 record made the postseason. That percentage drops to 48.0 percent for 9-7 teams, and to get there, the Broncos have to finish 6-1.

That's why they're tired of "promise" and being "close." They've dug themselves a hole and they might need to be flawless to escape. "Promise" must become "perfect" and "close" must turn into them being "closers."

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