Denver Broncos: Winning Battles, Losing the War - A Quarter-by-Quarter Look at the NFL in 2010

DENVER - SEPTEMBER 19: The Seattle Seahawks receive the opening kick off from the Denver Broncos at INVESCO Field at Mile High on September 19 2010 in Denver Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

     One of my favorite movie characters is the dog "Dug" from the movie "Up." Dug is a character that will randomly exclaim "Squirrel!" in the middle of a sentence then continue with what was going on. If you're not familiar with him, you can catch him here. The reason I like him so much is that he is quite a bit like the way my own mind works. I'll be diligently working on an article on -- say characteristics of Super Bowl quarterbacks -- when someone else's article catches my attention and I start delving into their topic.

Such was the case with BroncoPH's article, "The Case For Clutch: Part 1 - The Primer." He made the case that:

"To be a championship organization you must command the endgame. The 4th quarter. The 9th inning. The final 2-minutes. The bonus minutes (this was an attempt at a soccer reference that I am about 14% sure makes even a little sense). If you cannot win the endgame you will not be a championship team. The ability to play consistently clutch is what separates the good teams from the great teams. My question became, how clutch are the Broncos . . .

"I used only the teams in the AFC West to test my sample."


     After the jump, we'll take a look at how not only the Broncos, but the entire NFL fared in winning the battle of the quarters.

BroncoPH took the following approach:

"Won 1st Quarter/Won Game, Won 1st Quarter/Lost Game (etc. for each quarter). In other words, if a team that won the first quarter went on to win the game, it got a check in the W1/Win column but if it won the first quarter and lost the game then it got a check in the W1/Lost column. This gave me a simplistic mathematical number of how important each quarter was to providing a win. I considered a tie score in a quarter to offset and didn't consider it in this equation."

"What I did find is that teams that won the 4th quarter went on to win at a higher rate and lost at a lower rate than in any other quarter. It's not rock solid evidence, but it does support that idea that it is better to be a good team in the 4th quarter than in any other."

     I followed essentially the same pattern. I looked at the box score from each game in 2010. I looked to see if a team won, tied or lost a given quarter. Then I looked to see if the team went on to win or lose the game. I realized that this might not give a completely accurate picture of the flow of the game, so I added two more checkpoints: did the team win, tie or lose the first half, and did they win, tie, or lose the first three quarters?

What I found was not necessarily what I might have expected.

GENERAL OBSERVATIONS FROM ACROSS THE LEAGUE

In the Regular Season
     When looking at the regular season, it was found that among the thirty-two teams, when a team won the 1st Quarter, it went on to win the game 53% of the time. When a team won the 2nd Quarter, it went on to win the game 58% of the time. When a team won the 3rd Quarter, it went on to win the game 58% of the time. Finally, when a team won the 4th Quarter, it went on to win the game 55% of the time. Now, obviously, these are league averages and some teams were above those percentages while others fell below them. All it really seems to tell us is that when a team won a given quarter, it was likely to go on to win the game a little over half the time. Not really an earth-shattering revelation.

     The percentages change rather significantly, however, when we look at a slightly larger picture. When a team held the lead at the end of the 1st Half, it went on to win the game 70% of the time. When a team held the lead at the end of the 1st 3 Quarters, it went on to win the game 81% of the time. This was, to me at least, a rather startling pattern. BroncoPH rightly pointed out the importance of a team being able to pick up their game and win in the 4th Quarter. However, the pattern in the league in 2010 would seem to suggest that it was far more beneficial to win the battle of the scoreboard in the first three quarters.

In the Playoffs
     When we turn our attention to the playoffs, we see that there were a couple of differences. The team that won the 1st Quarter went on to win the game 43% of the time (down from the 53% of the regular season). The team that won the 2nd Quarter went on to win the game 73% of the time (up from the 58% in the regular season). The team that won the 3rd Quarter went on to win the game 55% of the time (almost identical to the regular season). The team that won the 4th Quarter went on to win the game 45% of the time (down from the 55% of the regular season). The percentages for winning the 1st 3 Quarters was almost identical to the regular season: 81% Regular / 82% Playoffs.

     The surprising number came when we look at the importance of winning the first half. As mentioned above, in the Regular season, teams that won the 1st Half went on to win the game 70% of the time. In the playoffs, that percentage rose to 82%.

OBSERVATIONS -- TEAM-BY-TEAM


     This following section goes through each team's games and looks at how they fared when they won specific quarters. For example, New England recorded an overall record of 14-2 in 2010. There were eleven games in which they outscored their opponents in the 1st Quarter. This means there were five games in which the Patriots were either tied or outscored in the 1st Quarter by their opponents. In the eleven games that they won the first quarter, New England went 11-0. They had eight games in which they won the 2nd Quarter, and notched a 6-2 record in those games. The Patriots went 9-1 in games where they won the 3rd Quarter, and 6-0 when they won the 4th. When New England won the 1st Half, they went 9-1 and when they won the 1st 3 Quarters, they had a record of 11-0.

     By way of contrast, Denver only won the 1st Quarter four times. This means they tied or outscored in the 1st Quarter twelve times. In those four games, the Broncos went 2-2. They won the 2nd Quarter three times and went 2-1. Denver won the 3rd Quarter four times but went 1-3. The Broncos won the 4th Quarter five times and went 2-3. The three times Denver won the 1st Half, they went 2-1, and they went 2-1 in the three games where they won the battle of the 1st 3 Quarters. We can see with the Broncos that although they won the occasional battle of the quarters, they regularly lost the war of the game.

     What follows is a breakdown of the records of the thirty-two NFL teams when they won a given quarter, the 1st half and the 1st three quarters. We'll start with the twelve playoff teams, arranged in the order of their regular season record (I did not attempt to distinguish rankings between teams with the same record).

Team Overall Won 1st Won 2nd Won 3rd Won 4th Won Half Won 1-3
NE 14-2 11-0 6-2 9-1 6-0 9-1 11-0
Atl 13-3 5-0 10-1 6-0 9-1 9-0 8-0
Pit 12-4 7-1 10-2 5-0 5-1 10-0 10-0
Bal 12-4 5-1 11-1 6-3 5-1 11-2 12-2
NYJ 11-5 6-1 6-2 4-0 8-3 7-1 8-0
Chi 11-5 6-0 6-2 6-1 8-0 6-2 8-0
NO 11-5 9-3 6-0 7-1 5-2 9-1 10-1
GB 10-6 4-3 4-1 9-3 7-1 8-3 9-4
Ind 10-6 7-0 7-3 3-0 4-3 10-1 8-0
KC 10-6 4-2 7-1 5-2 5-2 9-2 9-1
Phi 10-6 6-2 7-3 6-1 4-3 7-1 7-1
Sea 7-9 2-2 5-0 5-1 5-5 6-0 7-0



There are some observations which can be made about these teams:

1)The least number of times a team won the 1st Quarter was 4 NO won it 12 times
2)The least number of times a team won the 2nd Quarter was 5 Bal & Pit won it 12 times
3)The least number of times a team won the 3rd Quarter was 3 GB won it 12 times
4)The least number of times a team won the 4th Quarter was 6 NYJ won it 11 times
5)The least number of times a team won the 1st Half was 6 Bal won it 13 times
6)The least number of times a team won the 1st 3 Quarters was 7 Bal won it 14 times
7)The average number of times a team won the 1st Quarter was 7.25 3 teams were above this
8)The average number of times a team won the 2nd Quarter was 8.58 5 teams were above this
9)The average number of times a team won the 3rd Quarter was 7.00 7 teams were above this
10)The average number of times a team won the 4th Quarter was 7.75 4 teams were above this
11)The average number of times a team won the 1st Half was 9.58 7 teams were above this
12)The average number of times a team won the 1st 3 Quarters was 9.66 6 teams were above this

 

Among the none playoff teams we see the following:

Team Overall Won 1st Won 2nd Won 3rd Won 4th Won Half Won 1-3
NYG 10-6 6-1 6-3 8-1 5-0 8-1 9-1
TB 10-6 4-0 6-2 7-1 7-2 6-1 7-1
SD 9-7 7-0 6-1 8-5 6-2 7-1 8-1
Jax 8-8 3-1 4-5 5-1 5-0 5-0 6-1
Oak 8-8 4-4 4-3 5-0 4-3 4-4 7-0
Mia 7-9 4-2 4-2 4-1 3-3 3-2 7-1
StL 7-9 4-2 4-4 5-2 5-2 6-2 7-3
Ten 6-10 5-1 2-1 2-5 4-3 4-1 5-1
Hou 6-10 3-1 1-2 5-3 4-3 3-2 4-3
Dal 6-10 4-1 3-3 4-5 2-3 4-1 5-1
Was 6-10 3-1 1-4 1-1 2-5 3-3 3-2
Det 6-10 1-2 2-3 3-1 4-5 2-4 5-3
Min 6-10 0-3 3-2 4-2 1-2 2-2 4-1
SF 6-10 5-4 2-2 4-0 5-1 4-2 4-1
Cle 5-11 4-6 2-2 3-1 1-4 4-3 5-2
Ari 5-11 1-2 2-2 3-2 3-1 2-1 3-1
Buf 4-12 0-2 3-2 3-2 2-4 3-1 3-0
Cin 4-12 2-3 4-2 1-2 3-5 4-4 4-2
Den 4-12 2-2 2-1 1-3 2-3 2-1 2-2
Car 2-14 1-1 2-1 2-5 1-2 1-1 2-1



There are some observations which can be made about these teams:

1)The greatest number of times a team won the 1st Quarter was 10 Buf & Car only won it 2 times
2)The greatest number of times a team won the 2nd Quarter was 9 4 teams only won it 3 times
3)The greatest number of times a team won the 3rd Quarter was 13 Was only won it 2 times
4)The greatest number of times a team won the 4th Quarter was 9 Min & Car only won it 3 times
5)The greatest number of times a team won the 1st Half was 9 Car only won it 2 times
6)The greatest number of times a team won the 1st 3 Quarters was 10 Buf & Car only won 3 times
7)The average number of times a team won the 1st Quarter was 5.10 12 of the 20 teams were below this
8)The average number of times a team won the 2nd Quarter was 5.55 11 of the 20 teams were below this
9)The average number of times a team won the 3rd Quarter was  6.05 12 of the 20 teams were below this
10)The average number of times a team won the 4th Quarter was 6.10 12 of the 20 teams were below this
11)The average number of times a team won the 1st Half was 5.70 10 of the 20 teams were below this
12)The average number of times a team won the 1st 3 Quarters was 6.4 10 of the 20 teams were below this


When we compare the playoff teams to the non-playoff teams we can see that, on the average:

1)Playoff teams won the 1st Quarter in 2.15 more games on the average than non-playoff teams
2)Playoff teams won the 2nd Quarter in 3.03 more games on the average than non-playoff teams
3)Playoff teams won the 3rd Quarter in 0.95 more games on the average than non-playoff teams
4)Playoff teams won the 4th Quarter in 1.65 more games on the average than non-playoff teams
5)Playoff teams won the 1st Half in 3.88 more games on the average than non-playoff teams
6)Playoff teams won the 1st 3 Quarters in 3.26 more games on the average than non-playoff teams


     Notice also, that not one team who won the 1st 3 Quarters in one or more games, posted a losing record for those games while seven teams that won the 4th Quarter in one or more games posted losing records in those games. One of the biggest differences between the playoff and non-playoff teams can be found in the number of times the respective teams won the 1st 3 Quarters. The least number of times a playoff team won the 1st 3 Quarters was seven. Only ten of the twenty non-playoff teams were at or above this level. The average number of times the playoff teams won the 1st 3 Quarters was 9.66. Only two of the non-playoff teams were above that average.

     It would seem to me that while it is important to be able to win the fourth quarter when your team is trailing, it is even more important to win the first three quarters, so that you don't have to be quite as concerned about winning it in the fourth.

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