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“Realistic expectations” are an excuse to lose in the NFL

realistic expectations
What are real expectations in the NFL? Do NFL teams downplay their expectations to help their fanbase?

Prior to the season every year, we never see a general manager (GM) or a head coach in the NFL proclaim, “We are going to win the Super Bowl this year!” 

Instead, we hear all these ‘wishy washy,’ proclamations that aim lower than pro football’s ultimate prize, and naturally we watch as those teams never accomplish much of anything.

We especially hear this from teams that are supposedly “rebuilding.” Regime…sometimes after regime comes in and sets these same lower “realistic expectations.” 

After all, it is supposedly “unrealistic,” that the worst team in the league can turn it around in one season right? 

The 2008 Miami Dolphins went from having the worst record in the league to making the playoffs the following year. 

The 2019 San Francisco 49ers, did the same thing.

So, it is possible. In fact, nothing is impossible. The word “impossible” is just a word in the dictionary. It is not reality. It can become “our reality,” when we tell ourselves something can not be done, but that does not mean it can not be – – the Dolphins and 49ers are living proof of this. 

“The man who says he can and the one who says he can’t are both right” 
– Confucius 

That is why it bothers me so much when fans and teams – – and ownership actually accept this “realistic expectation” talk nonsense. It is a way of thinking that allows for and accepts excuses for teams to lose and justifies the failure of individual players – – and it is a way of thinking that attempts to build in job security for those in charge. That is really why coaches and GM’s “hedge their bets.” 

The Dolphins and 49ers have shown us nobody really needs two or three seasons to “turn things around.” The only people who need two, three, four seasons (and build in that excuse) are those who never can get it done. 

The Jets were another team that went from 1-15 in ‘96 to 9-7 the following season. Then, in ‘98 (my first season in pro scouting there) the team went 12-4 and won their first division title in 29 years. I was in Orlando on a scouting trip with Scott Pioli, who was the Jets’ pro scouting director at the time. Our team had lost the AFC Championship Game the previous season to Denver in 1998, and I chimed up from the backseat during conversation and said, “Well, last season sure was great, we were only one game away from the Super Bowl!” 

The car went silent. 

Two other young scouts who were in the car also went stone-cold quiet as Pioli turned around from the passenger seat and sternly said to me, “One game away isn’t good enough! I don’t ever want to hear you talk like that again!” 

I shrunk down in my seat and felt super humiliated. I was just trying to be positive and I did not really think before I spoke. However, it is something I have never forgotten. It became ingrained in my soul in that moment. 

One game away isn’t good enough. 

Daniel Kelly is a former NFL scout with the New York Jets. He was hired on the regime which featured Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick, Scott Pioli, Mike Tannenbaum, and Dick Haley. He currently writes for Sports Illustrated Detroit Lions and he is a contributing evaluator for Draft Diamonds. For more information about him visit his website at He can be followed on Twitter @danielkellybook and his Facebook page is WHATEVER IT TAKES NFL TALK. 

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