They represent only six of the 16 games an NFL team plays each season, but the two games that NFL teams plays against their three divisional foes each year are important for those banking on a post-season appearance.
In 2002, the NFL went to a four-team, four-division, two-conference format for its 32 teams. Since then, there have been 144 teams that have played in the playoffs in those 12 seasons (12 playoff teams each season). Of those 144, 118 of those teams (81.9%) played over .500 in their six divisional games, meaning they lost no more than two divisional games in that season. Look at last year: Ten of the 12 playoff teams finished divisional play with records of 6-0, 5-1, 4-2 or 3-2-1 (a better-than .500 record in those games). The only two 2013 playoff teams that did not finish divisional play above .500 last year were Cincinnati at 3-3 in AFC North games, and Kansas City at 2-4 in AFC West contests.
In the last 12 playoff seasons, there were 15 teams that went 6-0 in divisional games in a season. Last year, Indianapolis was the only team to reach that mark. Here’s a look at those 15 playoff teams that went 6-0 in division games in a season since 2002.
2012: Denver, New England
2011: Baltimore, Green Bay
2009: Cincinnati, Indianapolis
2008: Arizona, Pittsburgh
2007: New England
2005: Indianapolis, Seattle
2002: Pittsburgh, Tennessee
It’s interesting to note that there was one team, the 2010 Oakland Raiders, that went undefeated (6-0) in division games in a season yet did not make the playoffs. They finished 8-8 that season.
There were 26 teams since 2002 that lost three or more divisional games in a season yet still made the playoffs that year. As mentioned above, Cincinnati and Kansas City were two such teams last season. Seven teams (Kansas City, 2013; Cincinnati, 2011; Kansas City, 2010; N.Y. Jets, 2009; Philadelphia, 2008; Jacksonville, 2007; and Dallas, 2006) each lost four games in their division that year, yet still made the playoffs.
Last year there were three teams (Dallas at 5-1; Detroit at 4-2; and Pittsburgh at 4-2) that had a winning record (above .500) in divisional games but did not make the playoffs. Of the 240 teams that did not make the playoffs from 2002-2013, only 31 of them (12.9%) finished above .500 in their divisional games.
As we head into Week #12 this weekend, there are six teams that are still undefeated within their division. They are: Atlanta (4-0), Indianapolis and Denver (each 3-0), and Detroit, Philadelphia, Arizona (each 2-0).
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Sports Stats ‘on Tapp’ is a sports statistics blog published with a focus on stats that go beyond the numbers.
Monday Morning quarterbacks and Packers fans in general are trying to figure out how the team could create four takeaways, score 30 unanswered points, and still find a way to lose yesterday’s game to the Cincinnati Bengals, Well, here’s my two cents… this simple stat may be the answer.
The Packers yesterday had great starting field position on six drives. They started at their own 40, twice at their own 42 yard line, once at the Cincinnati 37, and twice inside the Cincinnati 30-yard line. And what did they have to show for those six great starting field positions? Two field goals. Six points. On the other four possessions, the Pack had two punts and two interceptions. Scoring only six points with six starting field possessions with 60 yards or less to go to score is I’m sure not what Mike McCarthy expected.
Here’s a little comparison to put this in perspective: In the first two weeks of the NFL season, there were 134 drives where teams started at their own 40-yard line or better. Of those, 79 resulted in either a TD or field goal (59% of the possessions). The Packers were two of six (only 33%). Of those 134 possessions, TDs were scored on 47 of those drives (35%). The Packers scored zero touchdowns in their six possessions from their own 40-yard line or better. Zero percent!
Scoring only six points on those six possessions was bad enough. But when you play in a close game and lose by only four points, every possession is important. To start at the Cincinnati 37-yard line, lose 15 yards and then have to punt the ball… there’s no excuse for not putting at least three points on the board when you have that kind of starting field position. Then to have to settle for two field goals when they started inside the Cincinnati 30, again… if you’re looking for why the Packers lost yesterday’s game, not capitalizing on great starting field position has to be a key factor.
One final stat: Teams that started two or more drives in their opponents’ territory in games were 18-3 the first two weeks of the NFL season.