FanPost

NFL Divisional Record And Playoff Berth Correlation, 2002-2011

Editor's Note, by Brian Galliford: This has been bumped from the FanPost section, and the reason should be obvious: this is well-written and very interesting. Good on you, sir. End Note

Since the 2012 NFL Draft, I've daydreamed about how this might be the year the Buffalo Bills make the playoffs. As I enjoyed that sweet, sweet thought, I began to wonder how important a winning divisional record was to making the playoffs. To find an answer, I decided to look into how division records correlated to playoff berths since 2002.

I'm no statistician, and may have done some calculation wrong. Feel free to correct. Also, keep in mind that this discussion is only about correlation between divisional wins and playoff berths, not causation.

The Data (Divisional Records 2002-2011):

Div. Wins

Number of Teams By Year

2011

2010

2009

2008

2007

2006

2005

2004

2003

2002

Total

Total Playoff Teams

2

1

1

1

1

1

1

0

0

0

0

6

3

4

0

1

1

2

2

0

4

0

1

15

4+

7

11

10

10

9

9

12

8

12

11

99

Division Winners

2

0

1

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

3

2

0

0

0

0

2

0

1

0

0

5

4+

6

7

8

8

8

6

8

7

8

8

74

Wild-Card Teams

2

1

0

1

1

1

1

0

0

0

0

5

3

2

0

1

1

2

0

0

3

0

1

10

4+

1

4

2

2

1

3

4

1

4

3

25

Non-Playoff Teams

2

5

5

5

5

5

3

6

9

8

5

56

3

10

7

5

7

9

6

4

6

3

4

61

4+

2

2

4

4

1

5

2

1

2

3

26

Buffalo Bills

1-5

1-5

2-4

0-6

4-2

3-3

2-4

3-3

2-4

2-4

20-40

6-10

4-12

6-10

7-9

7-9

7-9

5-11

9-7

6-10

8-8

65-95

The Percentages:

  • 3 win teams: 19.7% made the playoffs (6.5% got a wild-card and 13.2% won the division).
  • 4+ win teams: 79% made the playoffs (20% got a wild-card and 59% won the division). 4+ win teams accounted for 82.5% of all playoff teams.
  • 2 win teams: 9.6% made the playoffs (8% got a wild-card and 1.6% won the division). In my opinion, these are aberrations (2006 DAL, 2007 JAX, 2008 PHI, 2009 NYJ, 2010 KC, 2011 CIN) explained by almost all of them playing in tough divisions and weak conferences.

The Verdict:

It's really quite simple: a winning divisional record is significantly correlated to making the playoffs. Get 4+ divisional wins and the odds are good (4 out of 5) you'll be playing playoff football. Get 3 and the odds reverse (1 out of 5). In other words, the difference between .500 and a winning record is a big deal. When it comes to being a wild-card, the odds shift from 1 out of 2 to 1 out of 7-not quite as drastic but still significant.

Briefly Pausing to Lament the 2002-2011 Bills:

  • Tragically, in 2007, the Bills were the lone 4-2 team that missed the playoffs.
  • Even worse, the best non-division record (7-3 in 2008) was complimented by us crapping the bed in the division (0-6).
  • The playoff drought is almost exclusively due to abysmal divisional records. 3-3 would've meant playoffs in 2008 and possibly 2002; while 4-2 would've possibly meant a wild-card in 2004 and, I'm fairly certain, a wild-card in 2011 (a maddening fact considering that after Week 3 we just needed to steal one game from the Jets and not lose to Matt Moore. Gross.).
  • It has only gotten worse: the 2008-2011 Bills have averaged one divisional win a year. Feel free to never read that sentence again.

The 2012 Bills, The AFC East, and The Playoffs:

The following is my interpretation of what this data means for 2012. Feel free to come to different conclusions. For the sake of argument, let's assume that the reigning AFC Champions will not be relinquishing the divisional title just yet. Can we get a wild-card? Let's assume this requires 10 wins (from 2002-2011 wild-cards averaged 10.1 wins and 70% of all wild-cards had 10+ wins).

The Bills almost certainly will not get a wild-card if they go 3-3. It's not impossible, but the odds are poor (1 out of 7). We would need to go 7-1 against KC, @CLE, @ARI, TEN, @IND, JAX, STL, and SEA (or upset a very good team in @SF or @HOU). Not impossible, but a tall order.

4-2 is not out of the question, but the Bills will struggle to pull it off. To go 4-2 a team must either a) beat each team at least once, or b) sweep two teams. In the last decade, perennial playoff teams have found a way to do one or both: like the Pats, who have not once been swept by a division rival, or the Steelers, who six times have gone 4-0 against CLE and CIN. For the Bills, this obviously means either stealing a game from New England or sweeping both the Jets and Dolphins. On a hopeful note, the Jets and Dolphins look beatable going into 2012. Barring catastrophic injuries, I for one would be thrilled-but not shocked-if we went 3-1 against them. But can we do that and beat New England? Possibly. It would be a big change from the recent norm.

If the Bills do go 4-2, they will probably make the playoffs in 2012. The odds are still only 50-50, but the Bills schedule is favorable. Six more wins will be needed, which seems doable if the team is playing well enough to go 4-2 in the division. Why shouldn't we win @CLE, @ARI, and @IND, and beat TEN, JAX, and STL at home? (Anyone who has rooted for this team for any length of time, shhhhhhhhh).

Finally, the Bills are heading in the right direction. One could argue that the Bills are the only AFC East team whose stock is rising. In general, I think Bills fans are more optimistic about the future (especially 2-3 years down the line) than either NYJ or MIA fans. The Patriots, meanwhile, have lost their aura of invincibility. Gailey's offense can score on Belichik's defense (a huge key to keeping those games competitive), and Nix is clearly building the Bills to stop Brady (by investing in the d-line and secondary). Perhaps all this means that in not-too-long the Bills will regularly post winning division records. When that happens, get ready to watch your Buffalo Bills play football into late January, and, perhaps, February.

What questions does this discussion raise for you?

How does it shape your outlook on the 2012 season?

Does it influence what a successful next step looks like in your mind?

Does it impact your opinion of the recent moves the Bills front office has made?

Just another great fan opinion shared on the pages of BuffaloRumblings.com.

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