Inconsistency Puzzles Teams

For many coaches, there's nothing more frustrating than not knowing which team is going to show up on a weekly basis. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

NFL coaches harp on the need for consistency. Regimen is everything.

Yet the streakiness of some teams, and the unpredictability for others, has marked this football season.

Now streakiness can be a good thing, as the Patriots (seven consecutive wins), Cardinals (six) and Cowboys (six) proved. Of course, each of them lost in Week 13.

And streakiness also can shatter a season, as the losses piled up for the Raiders (10), Jets (eight), Giants (seven), Jaguars (six), Titans (six) and Panthers (six).

What is most maddening for coaches, general managers and players, though, is when they don't have a clue how their team will perform from week to week.

And yes, that has been true for some of the better clubs in the league. Defining what the Cowboys, Seahawks, 49ers, Chiefs, Chargers and each team in the AFC North is has become an unsolvable puzzle.

As for the tail enders, the two New York teams offer a case in point, which is surprising for the Giants, not so much for the Jets.

Under Tom Coughlin, the Giants have had lots of ups and downs. But they've generally blocked well for Eli Manning, had a substantial running game and a staunch pass rush filled with sack masters.

The reasons they are in the midst of the NFL's longest current slide is that all of those elements have failed.

Yes, Coughlin always looks exasperated on the sideline, and he's never had more reason to be so than this year. The only consistent things about the Giants are their inconsistency — and the steady losing.

"It's a loss that we feel we should've won," Coughlin said after the Giants blew a 21-0 lead and fell in Jacksonville. "We've done this too many times. We just helped somebody beat us. Instead of forcing them to beat us, we helped them."

The Jets are even more befuddling because the one thing they always have done under Rex Ryan is play hard and physical football. This year, they've barely showed up on a trip to San Diego and in two losses to Buffalo — the most recent after the Bills were displaced by massive snowstorms and forced to play a home game in Detroit.

Once reliable on defense, now they are fundamentally weak. Their offense hasn't been any good since Ryan's first two seasons in New Jersey (2009-10).

Thus, ridiculously long negative streaks fill the Jersey Meadowlands.

Still, Ryan and Coughlin would be less agitated if they had any clue which team would suit up and take the field. Shockingly, that's also true for some of the positive streaky teams.

Such as Dallas.

When the Cowboys were winning their six in a row, from Sept. 14-Oct. 19, they ran the ball down opponents' throats — even against the likes of defending Super Bowl champion Seattle. That allowed them to be choosy in their passing game, and it kept the defense off the field.

Now that the Cowboys have dropped three of their past five, it would be easy to presume their approach has changed. It hasn't really done so.

Yet the Cowboys have gone from cruising toward the postseason to a dogfight in which they could miss out on a wild-card berth.

Now that the calendar has hit the final month, teams with title designs covet getting on a streak — provided it's the right kind, not the type the Giants are mired in.

With so many tight playoff races and so many teams still alive, stringing together a bunch of wins becomes paramount.

It's also where that need for consistency becomes essential.

Injuries, of course, play a huge role in finding that stability. The Cardinals, whose six-game victory streak has been followed by a pair of road losses, are so banged-up they might not find it.

The Packers, getting healthy at the right time and riding a four-game win streak (and eight of nine), might already have discovered it.

"We have some big goals," Aaron Rodgers said after the Packers ended New England's winning ways on Sunday, "and we're getting into December football now with a chance with everything right in front of us."


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