NFL Stats: How Important are Divisional Games?

Latavius Murray


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.

2013: Indianapolis
2012: Denver, New England
2011: Baltimore, Green Bay
2009: Cincinnati, Indianapolis
2008: Arizona, Pittsburgh
2007: New England
2005: Indianapolis, Seattle
2004: Philadelphia
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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