If you go back to ancient sports, they often were measures of military prowess. Equestrian, archery, wrestling, etc. were all used on the field of battle. As time progressed, the mentality continues. Is it any wonder then, that people compare a football game to a battle. We talk about life in the trenches, winning one-on-one battles, and the number of weapons the quarterback can use. Many fans are geocentric around the city where their team plays. They grew up rooting for the "home team". Any other team entering their hallowed city was an invader to be pummeled and cast away. The home team must be victorious. When their team raided other cities, they must win to show the obvious superiority of their local city. The thing is, football isn't war. In war, historically, the loser doesn't survive. In football, you tend to win some and lose some. Only one NFL team has an unblemished record during a season, and it's the 1972 Dolphins, much to our chagrin.
The question for today is how do you measure success in the NFL? One quick answer is that the franchise should strive to win the Super Bowl every year. To that I have to agree. The franchise, meaning the owner(s), coaches, front office people and players SHOULD work with the single minded goal of winning the Super Bowl every year. If this was a foot race, you don't run the race hoping to place 15th. You push for all you're worth and if 15th is where you land, then that's where you land. From there your team works to try to get to the top spot next time. That's fine as it applies to a single race, but when you talk about a series of races, shouldn't the focus be on winning them one at a time?The first thing that is required to win the Super Bowl is a chance to compete for the Super Bowl. Every year only 12 of the 32 teams is permitted to compete for the Super Bowl. You could argue that all 32 teams are competing from the start, but they are only competing for a chance to compete for the Super Bowl. If they were actually competing from the start, the best 12 teams, by record, would be chosen. They're not. For example in 2008, the 11-5 Patriots did not get a chance at the post season, while the 8-8 Chargers did. This year the 10-6 Giants and Buccaneers sat home while the 7-9 Seahawks competed. You have to be in the competition, to have a chance to win it.
To ensure that chance, winning the division is pretty important. You can get there as a wild card, as the 2007 Giants and 2010 Packers have recently shown, but like the 2008 Patriots, 2010 Giants and Buccaneers I listed above, there are no guarantees with a wild card slot. Some years 10 wins is enough, some 11 is too few. The first focus, then should be on winning the division, and most importantly there, in beating the division rivals. Division games are a different beast altogether. Division foes that have difficulty beating anyone else in the NFL tend to raise their games when it comes to division matchups.
So the franchise focuses on winning each game, with more focus on divisional games, and trying not to lose focus on the overall prize, the Lombardi trophy. That doesn't sound so much like focus as frenzy. I think the better way to view it is that during the offseason, the owner, front office and coaching staff look at what it would take to improve the team. Sometimes that's a new front office and coaching staff (often times that means that should really have a new owner). They should evaluate players, schemes, coaching, draft picks, and develop a plan to lead them to a Super Bowl. If that means they have to build to beat a certain division rival, then that's what they have to do.
The players should be working to improve themselves: strength, speed, catching, film work, healing, or whatever they need to be prime for the season. There should be no reason a player shows up for training camp out of shape, Mr. Brace. To do that shows a lack of focus. A lack of desire to be great. It shows that you aren't concerned about winning a Lombardi. So does holding out for contract demands, but that's a story for another day.
During the regular season, the focus needs to be on the next game and nothing else. It's good to show the Lombardi, check out the rings, and all of that, but you still need to win the game each week. If the preparation is saved for the post season, then you'll likely never need to prepare. You won't get there.
Once we make the post season, there needs to be a single-minded desire to win each game. There are no rookies in the post-season. No room for mistakes. No room for slackers. One and done is the closest thing to an actual war result in football. The victor moves on and the hopes die for the defeated. My greatest hope is that the last two post season losses serves as a lesson to all the guys on the team. If you don't like the view from the canvas, don't get knocked out.
Now, for the fans, how do you measure success? If you go to a local game, yell for the home, team and enjoy a win - one of only 4 in the season, is it good enough? Do the 12 losses change your experience during the one win you were present? If you watch every game at home on TV and experience 14 out of 17 victories in a year are you happy? Does the final loss wipe out the joy of the 14 wins? If you watch young guys develop as a team and stand up for each other, do you feel fulfilled regardless of the outcome? If you score a Mayo or Brady signature during preseason, is it a good year for you?
For fans, there is no "right way" to count your team's success. Some will only count Lombardi's or lack thereof. Some will count making the post season as a success. Some will say a winning season is good enough. For some, it's just never having to see the head coach on your sideline again. For the franchise, winning the Lombardi needs to be the focus and the goal, but for the fans the measure of success is as individual as you are. How do you measure success?