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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Seven teams – the Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints and Seattle Seahawks- are undefeated after the first three weeks of the 2013 season. For a few of these teams, the 3-0 start is something new. Here’s a quick look at the last time each of eight teams started the season 3-0.
Chicago: They won their first three games in 2010 and then lost their next contest to the New York Giants. They finished the season 11-5, made the playoffs and eventually lost to the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game
Denver: Last time they started the season 3-0 was in 2009. They started that season by winning six straight, had the bye week and then lost eight of their last 10. They finished the season 8-8, missing the playoffs.
Kansas City: Kansas City started 3-0 in 2010. They ended the season with 10 wins and lost a Wild Card playoff game to Baltimore. The Chiefs went 3-0 in 2010, had the bye week, and then lost their next two games.
Miami: Of the current 3-0 teams, the Dolphins have had the longest wait for a 3-0 start; they last started 3-0 in 2002. Unfortunately, they lost their fourth game in 2002 and missed the playoffs with a 9-7 record.
New England: The last time the Pats went 3-0 was their 16-0 regular season in 2007. Their only loss that season was a Super Bowl defeat at the hands of the New York Giants, 17-14.
New Orleans: Saints fans are excited about this year’s 3-0 start because they hope it mirrors their last 3-0 start; in 2009 the Saints started 3-0, extended that record to 13-0 before losing their last three games, and then won three straight to win the Super Bowl that season.
Seattle: The Seahawks last started 3-0 in 2006. They lost their fourth game that year and finished the season 9-7. They made the playoffs and won one and lost one in the playoffs that year.
In the last two seasons (2011, 2012), six teams (three each year) started 3-0. Of those six, four made the playoffs; two did not.
Of the 24 playoff teams over the past two seasons, four started the year 3-0, 12 started the season 2-1, and eight were 1-2 after three games.
Taking a look at the past 94 Super Bowl teams, a 3-0 or 2-1 start has been most common of the title game opponents (this past year’s Super Bowl opponents were both 2-1 after Week 3). Eighty-four of the 94 Super Bowl teams were either 3-0 or 2-1 to start that season, (89.4 percent). If you add in the two teams that started 2-0-1, then 86 of the 94 (91.5 percent) Super Bowl teams were either 3-0, 2-0-1 or 2-1 in the first three games in their Super Bowl year.
Here’s a breakdown of the record of the Super Bowl teams after Week 3 of that season.
Record after three games, Super Bowl teams
3-0: 48 teams (22 won the Super Bowl; 26 lost the Super Bowl)
2-0-1: 2 teams (one won the Super Bowl; one lost the Super Bowl)
2-1: 36 teams (19 won the Super Bowl; 17 lost the Super Bowl)
1-1-1: 3 teams (one won the Super Bowl; two lost the Super Bowl)
1-2: 5 teams (four won the Super Bowl; one lost the Super Bowl)
Note: The last team to win the Super Bowl after starting the season 1-2 were the New York Giants in the 2007 season.
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Last Sunday the Chicago Bears offense watched as the defense and special teams put up three TDs on the scoreboard in their 37-13 win over the Lions. (Devin Hester returned a punt for TD; Major Wright and Charles Tillman each returned interceptions for a touchdown.) The three return touchdowns upped the Bears total for the season to seven, tops in the NFL. It also put them on pace to challenge for the all-time record of return TDs in a season, 13, set by the 1998 Seattle Seahawks.
Following are the number of return TDs for each NFL team this season:
5: Green Bay
4: Baltimore, Cincinnati, Detroit, New York Jets
3: Arizona, Buffalo, Denver, Houston, New Orleans, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Tennessee
2: Indianpolis, Kansas City
0: Carolina, Cleveland, Jacksonville, Miami
The 1998 Seahawks, who went 8-8 that season, scored eight TDs via interceptions, two by punt return, two by fumble recovery return and one by kickoff return. Last year’s Arizona Cardinals team had 12 return TDs putting them second all-time in this category.
Following are the teams that scored the most TDs via interception, fumble recovery, punt return, kickoff return, blocked kick or missed field goal return in an NFL season.
Team, Season… Return TDs
St. Louis-1999, Kansas City-1999, Kansas City-1992… 11
Buffalo-2004, New Orleans-1998, Denver-1997, San Diego-1997, Kansas City-1986, Denver-1976… 10