The Cold, Hard Football Facts put a great deal of stock in quality wins. You should, too, especially if you're a gambling man. But there seems to be quite a bit of confusion over what we mean when we say "quality wins" and "quality opponents."
It's quite simple: A quality win is any victory over a team that currently has a winning record. The key is "currently." If Team A beats a 3-0 Team B in Week Four, that's a quality win. However, if Team B goes in the tank, and ends up 6-10 for the season, that early victory by Team A would no longer qualify as a quality win at the end of the season. Why? Because it turns out Team B really wasn't as good as their earlier 3-0 record seemed to indicate.
Here's a good example from this season. When St. Louis beat 3-0 Seattle, it was a quality win. When New England beat 3-1 Seattle the following game, it was a quality win, too. But Seattle is now 3-3. St. Louis and New England each lose credit for a quality win, at least for the time being.
A quality opponent, meanwhile, is any team that currently boasts a winning record. In the eyes of the Cold, Hard Football Facts, 3-3 Seattle no longer qualifies as a quality opponent.
Quality wins are based upon a simple premise, one that trumps any other trend or stat: the best teams are those that are most capable of beating other good teams. It's proven an extremely effective handicapping strategy over the years. That's bad news for the "pundits" and wise guys, who try to wow football fans and/or snag their cash by churning out spreadsheets full of meaningless data.
Sure, Team A may be 5-1 all-time on the road in 4 p.m. games following a bye week. And Team B may give up an average of just 14 points in home games against division rivals since the start of the 2001 season. But we'll take the team who has faced and beat the toughest teams. It's an easy formula, but it's ruthlessly effective.
Pretenders vs. contenders
The Cold, Hard Football Facts quality wins quotient helps us separate frauds that pile up victories against sponge-cake schedules from razor-sharp contenders forged against the iron of the league.
For example, it was pretty clear last year that Kansas City, which jumped out to a 9-0 record before finishing the season at 13-3, was a pretender entering the playoffs. The 2003 Chiefs played just fives teams with winning records, none better than 10-6, and did not record a single quality win over the last 10 weeks of the season (after three quality wins in the first six weeks). They lost their first and only playoff game to Indy, a team that posted a 12-4 regular season record and had four quality wins, including two against 12-4 Tennessee.
On the other hand, the quality wins quotient showed that New England was the best team entering the 2003 playoffs: the Patriots had chalked up a remarkable six quality wins during the regular season, including three against 12-4 teams. Three more quality wins in the playoffs gave them a virtually unheard of nine in a 19-game span. The Patriots have earned two more quality wins (Indy and NY Jets) this season, for a remarkable 11 (against zero losses to quality opponents) in a 25-game period.
The quality wins crystal ball
This year's early-season pretenders are highlighted by:
5-1 Pittsburgh (zero quality wins)
5-1 NY Jets (zero quality wins)
5-1 Minnesota (zero quality wins)
4-2 Indy (one quality win)
The Steelers, Jets, and Vikings have each lost to the only team they've played with a winning record. Indy is 1-2 against teams with winning records, losing to New England and splitting with Jacksonville for its only quality victory. Look for all four teams to struggle to make the playoffs. Six of Pittsburgh's and New York's 10 remaining opponents currently have winning records. Minnesota and Indy each face five teams with winning records.
The contenders are paced, not so surprisingly, by 6-0 Philly (three quality wins against NY Giants, Minnesota, Detroit) and New England (two quality wins against Indy and NY Jets). The future for both teams includes just four games against opponents that currently have winning records.
Only three other teams with winning records have more than one quality win: 5-2 Jacksonville, 5-2 Atlanta, and 4-2 Detroit each have two, along with one loss each to quality opponents.
The quality wins test
We've looked at four match-ups this week that feature narrow spreads and at least one quality team (i.e., a team with a winning record). We've chosen winners based on the Cold, Hard Football Facts quality wins quotient and anticipate three upsets. Check back next week to see if the quality wins quotient passed the test in Week Eight.
Jacksonville at Houston (-1)
Houston is 3-3 overall, but 0-3 versus quality opponents. Expect underdog Jacksonville, 5-2 overall and 2-1 against quality opponents, to win on the road.
New England (-3) at Pittsburgh
New England is 6-0 overall and 2-0 against quality opponents. Pittsburgh is 5-1, but 0-1 against quality opponents. Look for favored NE to hold serve on the road.
Detroit at Dallas (-3)
The 2-4 Cowboys are favored at home, but are 0-3 against quality opponents. The 4-2 Lions have two quality wins and should pull off the upset on the road.
Indy (-1) at Kansas City
The 2-4 Chiefs are 2-2 against quality opponents and are coming on strong, after last week's 56-10 victory over quality opponent Atlanta. The Colts are just 1-2 against quality opponents. Look for a Kansas City upset at home.