Mad Chemist: The bottomless tank

Updated: December 1, 2013

The Green Bay Packers have too many wins to justify tanking for a top-five pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.

Last week we spotlighted the fact that a team gains no advantage by winning four or fewer wins to land a top-five draft pick versus garnering five or six wins and selecting sixth to tenth overall.

I also posited that there is room for intelligent minds to disagree, that is no concrete way to prove my hypothesis that deliberately losing games leads to a losing mentality, greater injury risk, or player desertion.

At 5-6-1, the Green Bay Packers are already beyond the top-five threshold, but the Minnesota Vikings, New York Giants, Atlanta Falcons, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars, Houston Texans, and Oakland Raiders all remain in the fight to win the draft lottery.

In Tampa Bay and Minnesota, the head coaches and possibly the general managers are likely playing for their jobs. Next year’s draft is of no consequence. They’re just hoping that there is a next year.

Buffalo, Cleveland, Jacksonville and Oakland are all in the honeymoon year with a new coach. These men are still trying to learn how to win and hoping they can find the right buttons to push. Next season’s draft isn’t on the radar yet.

Only three franchises fit the mold for teams that could conceivably change their fortunes by purposely tanking for a high pick: Atlanta, Houston, and  New York. These teams are unlikely to change their general manager or head coach. The Falcons and Giants are virtual locks to stick with their quarterbacks.

Furthermore, the fan bases of these teams have enjoyed enough success recently that only playoff berths — indeed, Super Bowl appearances — will satisfy them.

Now that the 2013 is lost, the notion of intentionally faltering to boost next season’s prospects can seem appealing for these teams and their fans. They can tell themselves that they will overcome the rash of injuries and rise, like the mythical phoenix, from the ashes.

But will they?

How the lowly fared

Since 2000, NFL teams have won four or fewer games 56 times. Here is how they managed the following season:

Number of Instances 56
Winning Record 15
.500 Record 5
Losing Record 36
Playoff Teams 12

Those odds look steep, but they also include the Clevelands, Jacksonvilles, and Detroits of the league. Surely a team like the Falcons, which enjoyed five straight winning seasons before being felled by injury, will be back.

Quite possibly. I agree they have a strong chance to buck those odds and be one of the teams that bounce back and rediscover the promised land.

How have those 12 that made the playoffs done once there? Ten lost in the Wild Card round. The other two either lost in the Divisional Round (Denver, 2011) or the Conference Championship (New Orleans, 2006). In both cases they narrowly won their first game and were subsequently blown out: Denver by 35 points and New Orleans by 25.

Before the season began, fans of the Texans, Giants and Falcons had Super Bowl hopes, and they will again next year. Yet of the 90 previous Super Bowl teams, only two has four wins the previous season and none had fewer than four.

Rising from the bottom

Season following
0-4 wins
Season following
5-6 wins
Number of Instances
since 2000
56 71
Winning record 15
.500 record 5
Losing record 36
Playoff teams 12
Ensuing Playoff Record 2-12
Made conference championship game 1 5
Made Super Bowl 0 1

There is nothing I can add that the table above doesn’t spell out. Tanking simply does not work in the NFL.

Maybe Houston, Atlanta, and New York are giving it their all and they really are this awful. What is certain is that fans of these teams should be rooting stronger than ever for their team to have a late rally. The numbers are quite clear: if they plan to quickly bounce back and be a contender in 2014, their seasons start right now.

Turkey time

In Week 12, managed to widen their lead over me from one game to two. They now sit at 20-26-1 while I trail with a 18-28-1 record in our contest.

Pick Line Opponent
Deep Cool Agrees
Seattle Seahawks -5.5 vs. New Orleans Saints
Deep Cool Disagrees
Robert's Pick Line Deep Cool's Pick
Carolina Panthers -8 vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Cleveland Browns -7 vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
Denver Broncos -4.5 @ Kansas City Chiefs

My picks outside of our bet slipped to 34-20-3 (62.96%) but are still a winning proposition on the year. For Week 13 I have

  • Philadelphia Eagles -3.5 vs. Arizona Cardinals
  • New England Patriots -7.5 @ Houston Texans
  • Buffalo Bills -3.5 vs. Atlanta Falcons
  • San Francisco 49ers -8.5 vs. St. Louis Rams
  • Cincinnati Bengals +1.5 @ San Diego Chargers
  • New York Giants -1 @ Washington Redskins
  • Dallas Cowboys -9.5 vs. Oakland Raiders
  • Baltimore Ravens -3 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
  • Indianapolis Colts -4 vs. Tennessee Titans

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving. Good luck!

About the author(s)

A self-described NFL addict and "stats geek," Robert J. Russ loves to demolish conventional wisdom with cold, hard numbers. When reputation doesn't jive with reality, he plows tirelessly through play-by-play charts and statistical tables to separate fact from fiction. A military brat who was born in California, raised in North Carolina, and bounced between the two states through college, Russ has lived in Coastal Carolina since 1990. He owns a small pest-control business and a free fantasy football and NFL betting line website. Feel free to contact him at with questions, comments, or ideas for future articles.

Rarely Evenn
Rarely Evenn

I thought AP would lower his shoulder and run through Conte.

Packers = Turkeys
Packers = Turkeys

I disagree with Billick here. If two teams are equally good or equally bad, there is no reason why the outcome of the game shouldn't be a tie.


Jesus H Christ of incompetence!  This feels like I am watching Packers v Vikings from 2 weeks ago!  It pains me to say this but the Lions are easily the better representative from NFCN.

Packers = Turkeys
Packers = Turkeys

Dammit, Cassel. If you hadn't tripped, you had plenty of real estate in front of you.

Building With Clay is back SON
Building With Clay is back SON

I am rooting for Min to win only because the fans that call in to waddle and silvy through the week to explain away losses are much more entertaining than the calls they get after wins.

Matthew "Moonball" Stafford
Matthew "Moonball" Stafford

im guessing an INT coming up, followed by a fumble on the return, putting the Vikings on their own 5

Rarely Evenn
Rarely Evenn

Greg Jennings. Put da team on ma back doe.

Kuato Face
Kuato Face moderator

Man he got called for a penalty for dropping the ball? WTF?


McCown is doing his Rodgers impression of dilly dallying around until a bad play.

Pat Fenis, Esq.
Pat Fenis, Esq. moderator

Does Marc Trestman know Matt Forte exists?

Packers = Turkeys
Packers = Turkeys

I still wonder how that works in the official's huddle. Majority rules or referee gets the final say?


prediction:12 sacks given up by Atlanta today

Pat Fenis, Esq.
Pat Fenis, Esq. moderator

 If a team wins, then they are not equal to the other. Play until that point.


 Funny how there are players in the other uniform attempting to trip him.

NeutralSaintsRow moderator

Cant wait to see who they trade 19 picks for this time!


 When does When does Rodgers do that? He will escape the pocket 


 Ref gets final say as to who's opinion prevails.


Last week you were saying how Ryan should run into 3 defends to win it for his team. Now he should sit out. 

Kuato Face
Kuato Face moderator

He did not throw it like they said though. I thought it was only intended to penalize intentionally throwing it to delay the game.


 They have the Jags in Jacksonville who they just lost to and then the Colts, Broncos, and Titans. 

If they don't win next week they are ending 2-14