Michael Lombardi: In the NFL, how you win matters

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In the NFL, how teams win matters

There are three types of wins in the NFL, and none of them are reflective of the scoreboard. Yes, I know Bill Parcells is correct in believing a team is what their record indicates.  However, hidden in the win column for anyone in the organization are variations of wins.

The first is a “dominating” win. This occurs when a team is in complete control from the start to the finish, clearly the better team. Maybe five current NFL teams can claim domination in games. It’s not an easy achievement, as it takes great players and coaching.  Watching a dominating game, it’s obvious. The dominating team will win the game from the start, even though the scoreboard isn’t reflective of the domination. Dominating games can be 20-10 or 35-3.  The win margin isn’t relevant. What matters here is understanding the opponent never had a chance to win.  For bettors, this occurs when we watch a game and realize, our bet has no chance. 

The second is the “dictating” win. This type of win takes place when the team overcomes a few mistakes, and plays poorly for moments, allowing the opponent to briefly gain some momentum, which then is taken back. This winning team dictates the course of the game, never allowing their opponent to make critical game-winning plays.  

The third type of win is the “dangerous” win. A team plays poorly, yet finds a way to win, believing they are good, and just had an off day and still won. It’s dangerous because unless the team repairs their inadequacies and fixes their problems, they eventually lose a critical game.  

When you handicap teams, it’s important to break down their wins into these three categories. Last night in Seattle, we witnessed the Eagles continue down their “dangerous win” road, only to lose at the end. This is now their third straight loss, scoring only 49 points in those three games. All season, we have been moaning the Birds don’t look like they did last year. The same can be said for the Chiefs. Super Bowl teams understand how to win those dangerous games, and if the problems aren’t corrected, they suddenly fall victim to the Super Bowl hangover. 

Prior to the Eagles’ three-game losing streak, after their bye, the Eagles had two dangerous wins, one against Kansas City and the other vs. Buffalo. When you review the Eagles’ schedule, the last dominating win they registered was against the Bucs in Week 3. From my evaluation, they have five dictating wins—New England, Rams, Miami, Dallas, second Washington game. They have two dominating wins—Minnesota and Tampa. And they have three dangerous wins—Kansas City, Buffalo and the overtime win vs. Washington.

Sprinkle in the bad loss to the Jets, which, had they not thrown the pick at the end of the game, would have counted as a dangerous win, the Eagles haven’t been great since September. Losing last night should not be a surprise. There are only so many dangerous wins you can achieve in one season. Eventually, danger wins out, and instead of the win, the loss appears.   

The Chiefs have been a mixed bag of wins, with few dominating ones. Chicago, Chargers and Raider games all qualify for dominating. The Jags, Jets, Vikings, Denver and New England fall into the dictating category. The Miami win was a dangerous win, leaving everyone involved with the Chiefs to feel as though they will fix the problems over the bye week. Which hasn’t happened. The Chiefs will continue to struggle as their offensive line isn’t good enough, their receivers lack play-making talent and cannot catch, and their best weapon on offense, Travis Kelce, isn’t the same player. Is this due to age or the injury? Hard to tell, but he no longer requires double coverage from the opponent. 

As handicappers, we have to understand the wins. We cannot react to the “W,” believing it will carry over into next week. Bad teams like the Giants, Patriots, Cardinals, and Jets cannot have a dominating win or a dictating win. All they can hope for is a dangerous win because they cannot play well for 60 minutes.

The Bears are the perfect example of a team always in danger. At times, they appear to be dictating. Yet, in reality, they are always in danger of losing. Last week in Cleveland, they essentially scored three points, with their defense accounting for 14 off of the turnovers. When they had a chance to dictate the outcome in the fourth quarter, they fell way short. Justin Fields cannot dictate the game because when he has to throw the ball and the opponent knows that when he is throwing, he doesn’t produce. Being 8-27 SU as a starter confirms this as fact. 

As we move towards the end of the season, we need to be aware of the type of wins each team has accumulated. Both San Francisco and Baltimore have 11 wins and three losses. Of Baltimore’s 11 wins, nine have been dominating, and three have been dictating. Their three losses could have easily been dangerous wins. 

For the 49ers, 10 of their wins have been dominating, one was dictating, and two of their three losses could have easily been in the dangerous category. These are the two best teams over the 14 games, not based on the scoreboard, but based on how we define the wins. 

This week, define the wins of the teams you are thinking of playing, then understand if you play a team with a ton of dangerous wins in a close game, the outcome might not work in your favor. Trust me, recommending Chicago last week taught me a valuable lesson on how not all wins are the same.