History working against Cardinals, Chargers
Teams from weak divisions generally fare poorly in the playoffs. That's bad news for the Cardinals and Chargers, writes KC Joyner.
One of the things I like to do at the end of every NFL regular season is compile the collective win/loss marks of every division. This type of analysis often yields some interesting numbers, and this season was no different:
(Win/ties are wins plus ties if ties are included as one-half a win, which is the NFL's method of classifying ties.)
The first notable item stemming from this analysis is that the NFC West's 34.4 percent win rate was the lowest of any division since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. It wasn't the only historically subpar mark, however, as the AFC West's 35.9 percent win rate was nearly as bad, claiming the second-worst postmerger mark in this realm.
Because wins and losses are a zero sum game, it should come as no surprise that the top divisions were near record-setting territory. The NFC South's 62.5 percent win rate was the fourth-best of all time, and the NFC East's 60.2 percent mark was the ninth-best.
The most telling part of this type of division win percentage breakdown comes from what history tells us about how teams from strong and weak divisions have performed in the playoffs. I did a detailed study of this nature in my book "Blindsided" and found many conspicuous trends.
The most compelling of these is that 26 of the 37 Super Bowl winners since the merger came from divisions that placed in the top three in win percentage during that season. This trend gets even stronger if the start year is moved to 1977, as 25 of the 30 world champions in that time hailed from one of the top three divisions based on win percentage. This trend stretched beyond Super Bowl champs, as 42 of the 72 conference champions since the merger came from the top three divisions. (These numbers don't include the 1982 season because divisional play was not used that year.)
The historical evidence also shows strong indications for playoff teams that come from the bottom divisions. There were six divisions from 1970 through 2001, and only one time during that era did a team that came from the division with the worst win percentage win a Super Bowl (1999 St. Louis Rams). In fact, playoff teams from the sixth division during those years won only 24 playoff games, and seven of those were wild-card victories.
That trend has continued from 2002 to 2007 with playoff teams originating from the eighth-ranked division. Those teams have only one playoff win, when St. Louis beat in-division rival Seattle in the 2004 wild-card round. The teams from the No. 7 division haven't fared much better than those from the No. 8 division, as they have only 10 total wins, with six of those coming in the wild-card round.
So what does all this forebode for this season's playoffs? To begin with, let's look at the playoff teams as ranked by division win percentage:
No. 1 division, NFC South: Carolina and Atlanta
No. 2 division, NFC East: N.Y. Giants and Philadelphia
No. 3 division, tie between AFC East and AFC South: Miami, Tennessee and Indianapolis
No. 5 division, AFC North: Pittsburgh and Baltimore
No. 6 division, NFC North: Minnesota
No. 7 division, AFC West: San Diego
No. 8 division, NFC West: Arizona
If history is any indicator, Arizona almost certainly will bow out of the postseason in a hurry, and the odds are very long for either the Vikings or the Chargers to win it all. It also says Carolina, Atlanta, the Giants, Philadelphia, Miami, Tennessee or Indianapolis most likely will end up hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy at the end of the season.
KC Joyner, aka the Football Scientist, is a regular contributor to ESPN Insider. His core coverage metrics for all skill-position players and cornerbacks are available in the ESPN Fantasy Football Magazine. His new book "Blindsided: Why The Left Tackle is Overrated and Other Contrarian Football Thoughts," is available in bookstores and on Amazon.com. For more information, check out KC's Web site, www.thefootballscientist.com.
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2008 NFL Playoffs
The road to Tampa for Super Bowl XLIII on Feb. 1, 2009, began Jan. 3 with the wild-card playoff round. Will the Steelers or Cardinals replace the Giants as champs?
Championship Game results: NFC | AFC
COLUMNS/FEATURES• Wojciechowski: May the bitter team win
• Chadiha: McNabb lets good times roll
• Football Outsiders: Numbers Crunching
• Sunday Countdown: Predictions and more
• Clayton: First and Goal
• Garber: This Philly Story seeks proper ending
• Clayton: Peaking Steelers should advance
• Chadiha: Eagles will soar in desert
• Wojciechowski: Book Eagles for Tampa
• Football Outsiders: Any Given Sunday
• Football Outsiders: Quick Reads
CHAMPIONSHIP GAMES (Jan. 18)
Steelers 23, Ravens 14• Polamalu's INT return secures win
• Playoff page | AFC North blog
Cardinals 32, Eagles 25• Fitzgerald leads Cardinals to first Super Bowl
• Playoff page | NFC West blog ... East
DIVISIONAL ROUND (Jan. 10-11)
Steelers 35, Chargers 24• Walker: The Bus sparks Parker
• Williamson: Bolts need season-long urgency
• Recap: Steelers knock out Chargers
• More | AFC West blog ... AFC North
Ravens 13, Titans 10• Graham: Battered Ravens pass physical
• Kuharsky: Titans failed to answer critics
• Recap: Turnovers doom Titans
• Zoom Gallery
• Fleming: Can anyone stop the Ravens?
• More | AFC North blog ... AFC South
Cardinals 33, Panthers 13• Sando: Desert bloom for Arizona's faithful
• Sando: No denying Cards' makeover
• Yasinskas: Carolina's big plans fall apart
• Recap: Delhomme's 5 INTs doom Panthers
• Zoom Gallery
• More | NFC West blog ... NFC South
Eagles 23, Giants 11• Wojciechowski: Book Eagles for Tampa
• Mosley: Giants lost to better team
• Recap: Defense smothers Giants
• Zoom gallery
• Chadiha: Eagles' defense hitting stride
• More | NFC East blog
WILD-CARD ROUND (Jan. 3-4)
Ravens 27, Dolphins 9• Wojciechowski: Scary Ravens' D
• Recap: Ravens' defense overpowers Dolphins
• More | AFC North blog ... AFC East
Eagles 26, Vikings 14• Mosley: Eagles' run continues
• Recap: Westbrook, big plays carry Eagles
• More | NFC East blog... NFC North
Cardinals 30, Falcons 24• Sando: Cards' winning identity
• Recap: Strong second half powers Cards
• More | NFC South blog ... NFC West
Chargers 23, Colts 17• Williamson: 5-6 Sproles comes up big
• Recap: Chargers shock Manning, Colts in OT
• More | AFC South blog ... AFC West