Fun with NFL Standings

I’m on kind of an NFL kick as the regular season winds down and we get closer to the playoffs. A lot of this stuff may interest only me, but these are little questions I think about when I take a look at the standings and playoff scenarios and all that. I wanted to find out about good divisions, playoff teams with bad records, non-playoff teams with great records, and stuff like that. This is pretty brief, though I’ll probably find more to add to it down the line.

Here’s the thought that prompted me to jump down this rabbit hole:

What is the best record for two teams in the same division?

The Denver Broncos and the Kansas City Chiefs are both 11-3. They both have the potential to go 13-3. They’re both in the same division. Has any division ever had two teams go 13-3 in the same year? Thanks (as always) to Pro-Football-Reference, I found out.Since the league moved to a 16 game season (starting in 1978), only once have two teams in the same division finished 13-3 (or better). That duo was the Jaguars (14-2) and the Titans (13-3) who combined for 27 wins in 1999 (6 division alignment). In 2002, when the league switched to a 32-team, 8-division alignment, the chances of this happening again decreased.

In 1998, the Vikings (15-1) and Packers (11-5) totaled 26 as did the Falcons (14-2) and the 49ers (12-4). Most recently, in 2005 the Colts went 14-2 and the Jaguars went 12-4.

Today, two teams in the same division can get a maximum of 30 wins between them. If the Broncos and Chiefs manage 13-3 apiece, they’ll be the best combo to date in the current league alignment.

What is the largest number of 10+ win teams in any given season?

Since 1978, no NFL season has seen more than 13 teams with 10+ wins in a season (2003, 2005, 2010, 2012). 13 is the maximum possible at this point in the current season. I’m not going to do all of the math, but theoretically at least 16 teams should be able to reach double digits, if not more.

How about the smallest number of 10+ win teams?

The fewest double-digit-win teams is 6, but that was in 1983 and 1987 when there were only 28 teams in the league. Notably, the 28-team league totaled 12 double-digit-win teams in 1986. Since 2002, the lowest number of teams with 10+ wins in a season is 8.

What is the largest/smallest win total for a single division in a single season?

It’s easiest to consider this with the current league alignment as divisions were uneven for many of the seasons between 1978 and 2002. Mathematically (and excluding ties), a 4-team division can’t do better than 52-12 combined. The division with the most wins in a season (since 2002) is the 2007 AFC South, which saw the Colts (13-3), the Jaguars (11-5), the Titans (10-6) and the Texans (8-8) combine for 42 wins. 2008 saw the NFC South post 40 wins, and three other divisions post 38 wins (AFC South and East, NFC East).

With so many strong divisions in 2008, it’s no surprise that the division with the fewest wins in a season (since 2002) is the 2008 NFC West, combining for 22 wins. This means they combined to win just 10 games against non-division opponents. In the same year the AFC West had just 23 wins.

Which playoff team(s) had the worst regular season record?

There have been ten 8-8 division winners since 1978. The 2010 NFC West, which posted 25 combined wins, infamously sent the 7-9 Seahawks to the playoffs, while the 10-6 Giants and 10-6 Bucs stayed home. The Seahawks managed to win their first round game against the 11-5 Saints. Theoretically, four teams in one division could tie at 0-10-6, and one would have to make the playoffs.

Which non-playoff team(s) had the best regular season record?

In chronological order, the “best” teams to miss the playoffs are:

  • The 1962 Detroit Lions went 11-3, but ended up second to the 13-1 defending NFL Champion Green Bay Packers (who would win their 8th of 9 pre-Super Bowl Championships). This was before a playoff system or an AFL/NFL Championship , so the top team from each 7-team conference played the NFL championship game.
  • The 1963 Green Bay Packers (11-2-1) were second in the conference to the Chicago Bears (11-1-2).
  • The 1967 Baltimore Colts (11-1-2). Tied for the best record in the NFL, their one loss came from their division rival LA Rams (11-1-2), meaning they stayed home while the Rams lost to the eventual Super Bowl I champion Green Bay Packers.
  • The 1985 Denver Broncos (11-5) finished 5th in the AFC, with two other 11-5 teams and two 12-4 teams ahead of them. Unfortunately, the Browns were an 8-8 division winner that year, which pushed the Broncos out of the playoffs. There were only 5 teams from each conference in the playoffs at that time. Three division winners got byes and two wild card teams played each other in the first round.
  • The 2008 Patriots finished 11-5 behind Matt Cassel at QB. The Dolphins, also 11-5, won the division and the 11-5 Ravens and 12-4 Colts took the Wild Cards.

Also, something that doesn’t factor into the above, but is worth noting: before 1972, ties weren’t counted at all in the standings. A 10-0-4 team and a 13-0-1 team had the same win percentage. Of course, the latter team had more wins and would thus have a better record.

Speaking of ties, one last unrelated note. On October 24, 1983, on Monday Night Football, the (then) St. Louis Cardinals and the New York Giants finished tied at 20. Cardinals kicker Neil O’Donoghue missed 3 FG attempts in the overtime period (45, 20 and 42 yards). The final two attempts came in the last 1:06 of the game.

There you go. As usual, I’ll probably come up with more stuff to research, and it will probably only be interesting to me.

2 thoughts on “Fun with NFL Standings

  1. Pingback: NFL Playoff Expansion: Everyone Gets a Trophy! | slazenger1

  2. Pingback: NFL Playoff Expansion: Everyone Gets a Trophy! | KC Sports Ninja

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