NFL: Does 4-0 Guarantee a Playoff Berth?

Rob Foldy/Getty Images
Rob Foldy/Getty Images

Starting the season 4-0 in the NFL has to feel like a plush pillow after a long day of work. You can put in so much work over the offseason to try and perfect your game plan, but you don’t really now how everything will work out until you take the field against other teams. Obviously, when you win your first four games, you feel like you have done everything right and begin to wonder if you can be stopped.

That is the case for several teams this season, as the Denver Broncos, Carolina Panthers, Green Bay Packers, Atlanta Falcons, and Cincinnati Bengals are all undefeated through the first quarter of the 2015 campaign (with the New England Patriots right behind them). It would be natural for each of these clubs to begin thinking “playoffs,” but even with a 4-0 mark, is it too early to be having these confident thoughts?

We thought it would be interesting to dive into the history books and see just how well teams that have started 4-0 have fared in past season. We analyzed playoff and Super Bowl success for 4-0 teams in the past several seasons to see the likelihood that these teams make the postseason.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

In the past six seasons prior to 2015, 15 teams have started 4-0. Of those teams, a staggeringly high number of them made the playoffs, with 12 4-0 squads reaching the postseason. In 2009, five teams (similar to how many teams are 4-0 so far this season) started with four wins in four weeks, with three ultimately reaching the postseason. The other two (that year’s version of the Giants and Broncos) only managed four wins for the rest of the season.

No teams went 4-0 to begin the season in 2010, but two more first quarter unbeaten squads in 2011 made the postseason in the Lions and the Packers. 2012 saw another three clubs get off to hot start, with only the Cardinals falling apart and missing the playoffs (they really fell apart and only managed 1 more win for the entire season).

In 2013, five teams again started the season 4-0, with all five making the playoffs. That marks the only time in the past handful of seasons that an undefeated first quarter led to the a playoff berth for each team that achieved the feat.

Based off these statistics, 4-0 is a great indicator of the likelihood that a team will end up making the playoffs, with 12 of 15 equaling an 80% success rate (or you fall apart like the 2012 Cardinals). How about success once these clubs are in the postseason though?

CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 20:  at Paul Brown Stadium on September 20, 2015 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** name
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Of those 12 teams in the past six seasons with 4-0 starts to the season, four made the Super Bowl, with two each in 2009 and 2013. The Saints and Colts faced off for the trophy in ’09 (with the Saints winning). Then, in ’13, the Broncos and Seahawks met in the final game of the year after starting the season hot (with the Seahawks resoundingly coming out victorious). As for the other playoff teams with early season success, 7 of the remaining 8 won at least one playoff game. with only the 2013 Chiefs losing their first postseason matchup.

So, 4-0 teams have won the title in two out of the past six seasons, which is a pretty good success rate in an NFL full of decent to good teams. Even for the teams that failed to make the Super Bowl, almost all of them had some success in the postseason.

Just think about the significance of these stats. When you see a team having a large amount of success early in the year, with these numbers, it is clear that these are the teams that have the best shot at success when it really matters. Even though the old cliche says to not peak to early, if you have a good team, it will be a consistently good team throughout the entirety of the NFL campaign.

Of course, we’ve seen a handful of clubs start the season poorly and come back to win the title (think New York Giants). While that’s the case, a more consistent way of predicting who will be successful late in the season and in the title chase is based off success early.

With that, we just may have our Super Bowl champion in this year’s crop of first quarter unbeatens. Or maybe they’ll all fall apart and struggle to make the playoffs. It’s the NFL; almost anything can happen.