Reid Fischer's World of Rants

Looking at the sports world through orange colored glasses

Play your starters!

Posted by mizzou1028 on January 15, 2008

This note is for Tony Dungy, Wade Phillips and Jon Gruden.  I’m sure there are a couple of others coaches I could include here to whom this would apply, and I don’t necessarily mean just this season.  It seems to me a clear pattern has been established that it’s a bad idea to rest your starters for the final regular season game or two if you’ve got a playoff spot locked up.  Past seasons have shown that the teams that play all the way through generally carry momentum into the playoffs, while those that rest starters for fear of injury often end up tanking in the postseason.  This shouldn’t be rocket science, yet coaches keep tempting fate anyway. 

 This postseason alone three teams were adversely affected by not taking their final “meaningless” regular season game seriously.  The Colts had the two seed in the AFC locked up heading into their final game against Tennessee, and while they played their starters for a half, there never was any real effort to win the game.  Lo and behold they struggled in their playoff loss to San Diego, which happened to follow a bye week.  This meant it had been three weeks since the Colts gave full effort to win a game, not a good plan in terms of keeping momentum.  This marked the second time in three years this happened to Indianapolis.  In 2005 the Colts started 13-0, rested starters the final two games, and lost to Pittsburgh in the divisional round of the playoffs.  So what happened last year when the Colts won the Super Bowl?  They were 12-4, but were forced to play their starters in the final regular season game to preserve their playoff position, and they actually had momentum leading to a Super Bowl title!  This really shouldn’t be rocket science.

Not to say that Indianapolis was alone.  The Cowboys started out great this year, going 12-1 before finishing 13-3.  Dallas, with the number one seed in the NFC locked in, basically went through the motions in the final game against Washington leading into the bye week.  They got clocked in the game, then gave a listless performance in the playoffs against the Giants following the bye week.  How about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers?  They locked up their division title with two games remaining, and elected to rest their starters for the final TWO games of the regular season!  Needless to say, it was not a shock when they were no match against the Giants in the first round of the playoffs, even though they were at home.

 Speaking of the Giants, it really shouldn’t be that much of a surprise they’re still playing.  Even though they had nothing to play for in their final regular season game with their playoff spot secure, they went all out to beat the Patriots in the final game.  While they didn’t win the game, they gained confidence and momentum, and they have carried that into the playoffs.  How about the team they’re going to play Sunday, Green Bay?  The Packers took their final game against Detroit seriously, even though their playoff spot was locked in.  Thus, they looked fresh and rolled to victory in their playoff opener against Seattle.  As for New England, they too gave full effort to the end in the regular season, and they certainly didn’t skip a beat in their playoff win against Jacksonville.

 It’s amazing to me that coaches haven’t seemed to be able to figure this out.  If you’re a hot team you want to keep your momentum going.  Not to say that this is the only factor in determining the outcome of a playoff game, but there is no question it does seem to be a big factor.  It will be interesting to see if coaches keep this in mind in the future. 

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One Response to “Play your starters!”

  1. Angie said

    Doesn’t this contradict the school of thought that supports kneeling down to preserve a win at the end of the game? In that case you are also taking a course of action that protects your players from being hurt when the end result is already assured.

    On a serious note, I do agree with your assessment. It seems that coaches would learn that they have to put some effort into those last games, even if their playoff position is secured. Perhaps they can find a middle ground–let starters play hard for a couple quarters and have their 2nd tier players fight for the win during the other half of the game?

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