Is It Tougher Beating an NFL Opponent Three Times in One Year?

Whenever the situation arises in the NFL, the media likes to repeat the cliche that it’s unusually tough to beat one opponent three times in one season. We hear the usual pseudo-analysis – that if a teams beats an opponent, it will likely stick to that game plan because it was successful while the opponent gets to try new things. And that effect would be magnified in a third contest.

But why would a coach give away a game plan? Why wouldn’t multiple results against the same team have more to do with match-ups than anything else? Is there some rule that a team that wins a game has to stick with the same planning concepts?

It’s relatively rare to see teams play three times in one year. On an average of once or a little more per year, there’s an intra-divisional playoff game. Top teams often split home-and-home games during the regular season. So it turns out that only 19 teams have ever had the opportunity to take that third victory over one opponent.

It looks somewhat likely a 20th team will get that opportunity this year, since New Orleans has beaten Carolina twice and the schedule seems to favor a third game as the NFC 4/5 wild card match-up this season. Since the three-win opportunity hasn’t occurred since 2009, it will get more attention than usual.

Naturally, pundits will spend the week explaining that Sean Payton can’t possibly come up with a third way to beat the Panthers.

So, what’s the reality of the situation? Well, the home team has won 12 of those 19 games, and the team with the two prior victories has won 13 times. Myth busted.

I’ll also take the opportunity to point out that the last team to win that third game after losing the two regular season games was the New York Giants going out on the road as the fourth seed at 13-3 Dallas in the 2007 playoffs. Those Giants ending up beating the only 16-0 regular-season team in NFL history in the Super Bowl.

Author: Jim Gindin

Founder and Lead Developer, Solecismic Software