The NFL is still on vacation and will be until late July when training camps start. To help you through this football-less world we will look at three stats (Pythagorean wins, record in close games and turnover differential) that can be useful in predicting which teams will improve and decline this fall.

Last week we covered Pythagorean Wins, now we tackle (football pun!) record in close games.

It is exceedingly difficult to regularly win games decided by a touchdown or less. Teams that have a good or bad record in close games one season usually don’t perform to the same level the following year.

For example, in 2014 Green Bay and Cincinnati combined to go a perfect 8-0-1 in one score games. In 2015, the Packers and Bengals combined to go 6-6 in such games. Thirteen teams had winning records in games decided by seven points or fewer in 2014. In all, those teams combined to go 57-19-2, a 75 percent win rate. In 2015, those same teams went 59-45 in tight games, closer to a 57 percent success ratio.

Teams that perform badly in one score games are just as likely to regress to the mean (improve). The Jets, Raiders, Titans, Bears and Giants had the worst records in close games in 2014 combining to go 6-23 (20.7%). A year later their win percentage nearly doubled (19-30, 39%) in tight contests.

What teams can we expect to improve and decline in 2016 based on record in close games?

Carolina Panthers6-185.7%
Arizona Cardinals4-180.0%
Denver Broncos9-375.0%
San Francisco 49ers4-266.7%
Minnesota Vikings4-266.7%
Indianapolis Colts7-463.6%
Tampa Bay Buccaneers5-362.5%
Philadelphia Eagles5-362.5%
Cincinnati Bengals4-357.1%
Kansas City Chiefs4-357.1%
Washington Redskins4-357.1%
New England Patriots5-355.6%
New Orleans Saints5-455.6%
Atlanta Falcons6-554.5%
Detroit Lions4-450.0%
Oakland Raiders5-550.0%
St. Louis Rams4-450.0%
Pittsburgh Steelers4-450.0%
Houston Texans3-350.0%
Chicago Bears5-645.5%
Jacksonville Jaguars4-544.4%
New York Jets4-544.4%
Buffalo Bills3-442.9%
Miami Dolphins3-442.9%
Baltimore Ravens5-741.7%
Green Bay Packers2-340.0%
Seattle Seahawks2-528.6%
San Diego Chargers3-827.3%
New York Giants3-827.3%
Dallas Cowboys2-625.0%
Tennessee Titans2-625.0%
Cleveland Browns1-516.7%

Cleveland ended the year as one of the worst teams in football. The Browns rotated through Johnny Manziel, Josh McCown and Austin Davis at quarterback. So a 1-5 record (the worst in football) in close games wasn’t too surprising. Cleveland acquired Robert Griffin in free agency and drafted Cody Kessler. The new options under center likely won’t be enough to see the team return to the playoffs but regardless of who starts history says the Browns have a good chance to improve their record in games decided by seven points or less.

Tennessee, Dallas, NY Giants and San Diego are candidates to improve based on point differential; they also had crummy records in close games. These four teams saw nearly 60 percent of their games be decided by a touchdown or less. Even a slight improvement could do wonders for the team’s record.

Who is likely to take a step back? Carolina, Denver, Minnesota and San Francisco all exceeded expectations based on Pythagorean wins and also had success in one score games. This continues the narrative that these teams are candidates for regression in 2016. Broncos’ fans should be even more concerned. Nine of the team’s 12 regular season wins were of the one-score variety. That is not repeatable.

Check in next week as we look at turnover differential. Finally, with the NFL season just around the corner don’t forget to subscribe to BetLabs. There are currently 12 against-the-spread picks based on Pro Systems for nine NFL Week 1 games.