Nov 19, 2021
I couldn’t even hazard a guess how many football related conversations I’ve had in which the phrase, “They could have went all the way, if…” was eventually uttered with either reasonable conjectures, or totally unreasonable propositions, following the word, ‘If.’
For the NFL, that makes me wonder: How many teams could have reasonably went all the way?
Unfortunately, the ‘Best,’ answer to that is probably simple, “Well, duh, how many teams were in the playoffs that year? That’s how many could have gone all the way.”
That would be an answer in the sense of making the playoffs, but we all know that teams who, “Could have went all the way,” but for that one conditional, aren’t always the teams that make the playoffs.
In fact, the teams that make the playoffs sometimes had no real right to be there, other than Division rights. Some of you might be thinking of the 2011 (Season) New York Giants for this one, but believe it or not, at 9-7, they had the sixth-best record in the NFC that season, so even without winning a VERY mediocre division, they would have advanced to the postseason.
Even if you took the entire NFL into consideration and went with the twelve best winning percentages, the Giants would still advance in a three-way tie for 12th.
I’m thinking of a team that could have won it all just by virtue of being in the Playoffs, which is the 2010 Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks would be the only team in modern history to advance to the Playoffs with a losing record (7-9) in a season NOT shortened by a strike or lockout.
When your rules are such that a losing team in the regular season could perhaps advance to the championship and become the winner in, “The Big Game,” then your rules really suck. There are places for inclusivity, but the NFL Playoff Table is not a place that should come with booster chairs.
The 2010 Seahawks were terrible and are the textbook case for, “Benefitting from a poor division,” outside of NFC West play, they were 3-7 on the year. That’s just disgusting.
The good news is that I am going to revise history and that the 2010 Seattle Seahawks will not longer qualify for the 2010 NFL Playoffs. In this article, I’m not going to discuss who should have won the Lombardi trophy each year from 2000-2020, however, I am going to discuss who should have even, “Had a chance.”
How will I go about doing this? Read on to find out:
METHODOLOGY AND STANDARDIZATION
Divisions in professional sporting leagues are awful and stupid. Because of Divisions, or more to the point, Playoff rules that would exist to benefit Divisions, you have teams such as the 2010 Seattle Seahawks who, at 7-9, could have theoretically won the Super Bowl.
Were they ever going to? I don’t know, but they won their Wildcard Game and would go on to play the Chicago Bears...which would end in the Bears winning, but not exactly in a total blowout. (It was kind of a blowout, Seattle would lose 35-24 with 21 of their points coming in the 4th quarter. In order to win, they’d have either needed to recover TWO onside kicks and have a touchdown with a successful 2PT and at least a FG after to force OT...or two TD’s in under two minutes.)
The point is that Seattle could have, but it’s one of the greatest injustices in all of NFL history that not one, but two, 10-6 teams in the NFC would fail to make the Playoffs to accommodate a team that went 3-7 outside of its own division.
Granted, you’ve got the byes and you need the eyes, so monetarily, the longer the playoffs go on the better it is for the league, but you’ve got problems with the system when teams with losing records are managing to sneak in there.
With that, I have decided to adopt a methodology by which, for every season from 2000-2020, we will determine who could have went all the way and who should have had the opportunity to do so. With that, I give you the Mission146 Playoff Corrector:
Mission146 Playoff Corrector
The first thing that we will have to do to use the corrector is to establish a set of rules, which will go as follows:
RULE #1: Teams that made the Playoffs CAN be removed from the Playoffs, except if those teams actually won the Super Bowl.
-This rule is pretty simple. We can’t say that a team couldn’t have gone all the way if they did, in fact, go all the way. We could perhaps advance the argument that the team shouldn’t have been there, but you can’t fail to count them among the teams who could have won the big one. That said, I’m typing this prior to actually doing the analysis, so it might end up being the same.
RULE #2: The number of teams to make the Playoffs, “Could have gone all the way…” will remain the same as it was during the season in which it happened.
-Again, this is a simple rule and sticks with the philosophy that, if you didn’t make the Playoffs, then you couldn’t have gone all the way to begin with. The only thing that we are doing is adjusting who makes the Playoffs...and even that might not change too much.
-We will also give the actual Super Bowl winner for the season in question an automatic pass, per Rule #1. Call it a, “Bye,” from being ejected, if you will.
RULE #3: Divisional Adjustments
- The way that we are going to adjust Divisions out of the equation is by creating a metric called, “Adjusted wins added,” the way that’s going to work is that we will give preference to a team’s total number of out of Division wins, each of which will count as one.
- After we have done that, we will look at the overall out of Division record for an entire Division. That’s actually really easy to do, you simply take the number of wins that the teams had out of Division for the season and then divide it by the number of games played.
- If this adjustment results in .500 record for a Division outside of its own Division, then each win in the Division will count as one. Other than that, we will look at the difference in Winning Percentage of either greater than or less than .500, add or subtract that from one accordingly, and that will be the adjusted wins per Division win.
- While I acknowledge that this method might be imperfect, let me defend it in theory---in theory, a Win should never be worth zero wins, so even if a Division somehow managed to go 0-fer-X outside of its own interdivisional games, then Division wins would still have to count for something. With that, Division wins will be worth anywhere from 0.5-1.5 wins apiece.
RULE #4: The Playoffs
- Rule #4 just decides who goes to the Playoffs that year, which is the criteria for, “Could have went all the way.” Every team that makes it into the Playoffs is considered as having a chance to go all the way. Another reason that the actual Super Bowl winner is required to have a bye for this analysis is because we don’t want to have any seasons where no team could have, “Gone all the way,” as that would be ridiculous.
- With that, we take the Super Bowl winner (automatic bye) every year and we will look at the best win/loss records in the entire league AFTER adjusting for Divisional performance with our, “Adjusted wins,” metric.
With regard to the number of, “Byes,” awarded, that number remains the same, except the actual Super Bowl winner gets an automatic bye.
To be determined as, “Had a chance,” Playoff teams will need to have a record of better than .500, against other Playoff teams...or to have actually won the Super Bowl. Regular Season and Postseason games will all be included. Teams with a .500 record against other Adjusted Wins Playoff teams will be considered on a case-by-case basis.
A team cannot have a chance to go, “All the way,” multiple times in the same season. Each season that a team could have gone, “All the Way,” will count as one point to the final score.
For the final scores, we will compare the number of chances that they could have and should have had to go, “All the way,” to their actual number of Playoff appearances and Super Bowl wins during the relevant time period. We will also divide by the number of Seasons (21) to determine an, “All the way,” percentage:
RULE #7 TIEBREAKERS: Ties in record will be broken in the following order: Head to Head Results, Common Opponent Record, Points Differential
NFL SEASONS W/ADJUSTMENT
2000 NFL SEASON
|Team||Non-Division Wins||Division Wins||Non Division Losses||Division Record Against Non Division Teams||Adjusted Division Wins 1 +/- (.5 +/-x)||Adjusted Total Wins|
Divisions sure were messed up in the 2000 NFL Season, weren’t they?
Why does the NFC East only have four teams while the AFC Central has six and the rest of the divisions only have five? That’s anywhere from 16.7%-25% in automatic playoff bids, depending on what Division you’re in. It sure is a good thing that we’re not doing things that way, in fact, we’re doing our level best to make Divisions simply not exist!
In the AFC Central, they would actually go 18-18 out of Division, so the result is that this was to be considered a perfectly average division with no change from wins to adjusted wins and, presumably, no automatic advantage from playing one another a lot.
Not only are Divisions stupid in the first place, but the Divisions in the 2000 NFL Season didn’t even make geographical sense (not that they do now, Cowboys)...I just checked the map and I am pretty sure that Pittsburgh is east of Indianapolis, for one thing.
Either way, the AFC East is the first division in our little study where we see a benefit in Adjusted Division wins adding wins, which is probably going to eventually be relevant for tiebreakers. Maybe not this season, but someday. I guess we’ll have to find out.
The AFC East had a strong winning percentage that year, but not only due to the best two teams in the Division, but also the Buffalo Bills, who would amass a 6-2 record in non-division action. While they would finish 4th (of five) in both the actual and adjusted standings, they actually tied for the best non-division record.
Despite some power at the top, the AFC WEST wasn’t great, as they would go 17-23 outside of their own Division and I bet the other teams in the league would have salivated to get to play the Chargers twice that season. Did the Chargers at least beat a strong Division rival that year? Sadly, no; their only win of the season would come against the Kansas City Chiefs.
The NFC Central would win an astounding 60% of their non-division games, which significantly boosts their win total and marks the first time we see a near switch in top teams. Notably, the Vikings’ eleven (actual) wins become almost as good as the Raiders’ twelve, but not quite.
NOTE: For those wondering why these non-division games don’t change the equation to a greater extent, since I am getting rid of Divisions, I do want to err on the side of caution with what I am doing. It’s really tough to quantify or qualify the advantages of playing in a weak division, unless you have the 2000 San Diego Chargers to beat all over to pad your win total, so we’re not looking for anything drastic. The goal of this system, more than anything, is to use Divisional strength to get rid of some tiebreakers, and remember, these Division records against non-Division teams are a limited sample size.
In the NFC West, it looks like we actually change our Division winner, except we don’t have Divisions. In any event, the Saints couldn’t buy a win outside of their Division and I’m sure teams playing in the AFC East wouldn’t have minded getting two shots at the hapless Falcons, though would still prefer the Chargers twice, given the choice. Either way, this could have implications in our playoffs!
25% of the teams automatically going to the Playoffs aside, the NFC East (for a change) does not benefit from playing in a putrid division, on the contrary, they went 17-15 outside of their Division that year.
With that out of the way, let’s look at our 2020 Playoff Contenders:
Baltimore Ravens (BYE)---Won 2000 Super Bowl in reality.
Tennessee Titans (BYE): 13 Adjusted Wins
New York Giants (BYE): 12.217 Adjusted Wins
Oakland Raiders (BYE): 11.625 Adjusted Wins
Minnesota Vikings: 11.5 Adjusted Wins
Miami Dolphins: 11.375 Adjusted Wins
Philadelphia Eagles: 11.115 Adjusted Wins
Denver Broncos: 10.55 Adjusted Wins
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 10.4 Adjusted Wins
Indianapolis Colts: 10.375 Adjusted Wins
St. Louis Rams: 9.625 Adjusted Wins
Green Bay Packers: 9.5 Adjusted Wins
That’s right! Get out of here, New Orleans Saints and make room for the Green Bay Packers! Divisions are stupid and you didn’t deserve to win yours. The regular season points differential in head-to-head matchups was in favor of the Buccaneers (who you went 1-1 against), you sucked outside of your Division AND Divisions do not exist anymore.
Given how tough their Division was (as evidenced by out of division performance) the Packers’ nine wins are rightfully more valuable than New Orleans’ ten. Another thing that should be mentioned is that the Saints only Playoff win would come against their Division rival, the Rams! The Saints really couldn’t beat anyone outside of their slum of a division!
With that, we have to see who could have gone all the way! Teams with byes will have the benefit of only needing to beat Playoff listed teams three consecutive times, Playoffs included, while teams without a bye must do so four times.
Except the Ravens, who get a point simply because they won the actual Super Bowl.
The Tennessee Titans, despite their thirteen (adjusted and actual) wins, never had a chance. While they would go 3-2 against teams in our adjusted Playoffs (and, therefore, still get a point), they would lose to the Ravens twice, though they also beat them once.
That Playoff game was weird, by the way, offenses both took the day off. The difference in the 24-10 score favoring the Ravens was a FG Block-Six and a Pick-Six.
The New York Giants definitely had a chance. Including postseason, they would go 4-3 against teams to make our adjusted Playoffs and actually appeared in the Super Bowl that season, losing 34-7 to the Baltimore Ravens.
Hey, I didn’t say a good chance.
We’re going to say that the Raiders never had a chance. Even adjusting for Division, the Raiders still benefited greatly from an ultra-soft like Charmin schedule and would go 2-5 in our adjusted Playoff field, which includes the actual Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens ripping through them like toilet paper as well as two losses to the Chargers.
The Vikings are another team that never had a chance, as they would go 2-5 against our Playoff adjusted teams, which includes an actual playoff blowout loss, 41-0, to the New York Giants. Hmm...at least it wasn’t a missed last second Field Goal or Brett Favre interception to end the game.
The Dolphins had a chance as they would go 4-3 and beat the Colts two of three times, with the second coming in the actual Playoffs. I know we said that the Raiders wouldn’t have had a chance, but that’s actually who took the Dolphins out, and in very handy fashion. That’s just one game, though, and the Raiders were just not good against good teams, generally.
The Eagles never had a chance and, even though they won an actual Wildcard Playoff game, that was their only win against five losses to teams that would make our adjusted Playoffs, which makes them 1-5. There’s simply no reason to believe that they could have went all the way that year.
The Broncos are a strange case because they didn’t play many teams in our adjusted Playoffs and were eliminated in the real Wildcard Round by the Ravens, but went 3-2 in our adjusted Playoffs. They also beat the Raiders twice, so I guess we can say the Broncos had a chance that year.
The Buccaneers would have went 4-3 in our Adjusted Playoffs, so it’s probably fair to say that they would have had a chance that year if xyz hadn’t happened. There’s no reason to think they couldn’t have caught a little run at the right time.
The Colts never had a chance as they would go 2-4 in our adjusted Playoffs, which includes a 1-2 record against the Miami Dolphins who, as it turns out, would knock them out of the actual Playoffs. There’s simply no reason to believe that they were in a position to beat teams much better than they were.
The Rams are interesting because they went 3-0 in our Adjusted Playoffs, because that Adjusted Playoffs doesn’t include the Saints...who knocked them out of the actual Playoffs and would split the regular season with them a game apiece. Even then, they did beat the Saints once and were 3-0 in our Adjusted Playoffs otherwise, so we kind of have to include them.
While the Green Bay Packers would miss the actual Playoffs in the 2000 Season, they can delight in the fact that we think they had a chance. The Packers would go 4-1 against teams to make our Adjusted Playoffs and caught a hot four game winning streak to end the season. It would seem that they performed well against great teams and underperformed against poor ones and that, had they been in the NFC West, there’s a great chance they’d have made the Playoffs over the Saints!
2001 NFL SEASON
|Team||Non-Division Wins||Division Wins||Non Division Losses||Division Record Against Non Division Teams||Adjusted Division Wins 1 +/- (.5 +/-x)||Adjusted Total Wins|
In 2001, the AFC Central would, once again, get to have more teams than every other division and, consequently, would play the fewest games out of division. They went 19-17 in the ones they did play, which was mostly led by the Pittsburgh Steelers whose only losses in the regular season would come to Division rivals.
Nothing changed in the AFC East, which no longer exists, but it did make me think of something interesting. We don’t have divisions anymore, but in the 2000 Season, had there been divisions, the division winner would have changed. While that may create some unusual situation compared to what actually happened, in reality, we’re only doing this to try to fix the fact that Divisions exist in the first place, which they shouldn’t.
In a world without divisions, you would still have Playoff (or bye) tiebreakers, much as tiebreakers exist in today’s game. The first tiebreaker, obviously, would be head-to-head results. That failing, (or in the case of a tie), you could then go to record against common opponents and then points differential. Keep in mind, in our perfect world, we would also get rid of Conferences...but so few non-Conference games are played (each team plays four) that we’re not going to do Conference adjustments and just keep it to Divisions.
Nothing really interesting about the AFC West, except for the fact that all teams went 4-4 out of division, except for the 2-6 (6-10 overall) Kansas City Chiefs. I’m still going to defend that this is a worse than average Division...none of the individual teams even went above .500 out of division.
There are no real changes to the NFC Central in and of itself. They were slightly winning out of Division with a record of 21-19. It’s kind of interesting how the top three teams in the Division went 7-1, 6-2 and 5-3 out of Division.
In the NFC West, the Panthers lone win would come outside of the Division and would propel the Division to a 21-19 record outside of itself.
The NFC East was terrible that year. You would think that the rest of the teams would have taken advantage of the fact that the had the Cowboys (1-7 out of division) to kick around, but they were actually able to hold their own with a 4-4 record against Division rivals. Oh well. The Eagles would take advantage of the situation, beating the Cowboys in two regular season blowouts.
Let’s see who makes our Adjusted Playoffs:
New England Patriots (11.5 wins): Won Actual Super Bowl
St. Louis Rams: 14.175 Wins (Bye)
Pittsburgh Steelers: 13.196 Wins (Bye)
Chicago Bears: 13.15 Wins (Bye)
Green Bay Packers: 12.15 Wins
San Francisco 49ers: 12.15 Wins
Miami Dolphins: 11.125 Wins
Philadelphia Eagles: 10.7 Wins
Baltimore Ravens: 10.168 Wins
New York Jets: 10.125 Wins
Oakland Raiders: 9.7 Wins
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 9.1 Wins
This demonstrates that even a fundamentally flawed system sometimes gets it right, which we will probably see a few times. In the case of the 2001 Season, even adjusting to get Divisions out of the equation, our playoff participants would be the same.
There were only two nine win teams that season, which would be the Buccaneers (who made the real and adjusted Playoffs) and the Seattle Seahawks, who did not make either Playoff version. That actually came as a function of the two teams being in different Conferences (real Playoffs), but it’s just as well, because the Buccaneers (apparently) played in a better Division anyway.
The Buccaneers and the Seahawks did not play one another and there is no conference tiebreaker possible. With that, our analysis would turn to record against common opponents---and that’s if they had tied in Adjusted Wins. The two teams only had two common opponents (that’s what playing in stupid Divisions will do for you) with both defeating the Cowboys and losing to the Eagles.
Net points for the Buccaneers on the season were +44 and were -23 for the Seahawks, so even going to our final tiebreaker (as if Adjusted Wins weren’t included) we still end up with what actually happened this year. Divisions and Adjusted Wins (and even tiebreaker without Adjusted Wins) agree on the 12 best teams that season.
Of course, the Buccaneers never really had a chance going 3-6 against Playoff teams with both regular season and Playoffs included. The Eagles, specifically, seemed to have their number as they would beat the Bucs in both Week 17 and in the actual Wildcard Playoffs. Not only would the Buccaneers lose those games, but they would lose such games decisively with a Points Differential of -38 against such opponents.
The Patriots get the nod for winning the actual Super Bowl anyway, but they obviously ran up a 3-0 record against Playoff teams during the Playoffs, and then you combine that with a 1-3 record against Playoff-bound teams that year for a total record of 4-3 against Playoff teams. As much as I hate to admit it, their Regular Season schedule was laughably weak that year.
The St. Louis Rams had an excellent team that was favored to beat the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl that season, and rightly so, as they had accomplished just that during the regular season. In addition to going 2-1 against Playoff teams in the Playoffs, the Rams would run up an impressive 5-1 record against such teams in the regular season for a total record of 7-2 against all Playoff teams. They were obviously a heavy favorite to beat the Pats in the Super Bowl that year, and rightly so, they did better with an even tougher schedule...but that’s why you play the games.
Either way, there’s no question the Rams could have went all the way.
The Steelers would earn a first round bye in the Playoffs and would go 1-1 in their Playoff games. Against Playoff teams during the regular Season, the 2001 Pittsburgh Steelers would go 3-1 against what little such opposition they faced for an overall record of 4-2 against such teams. That might not be what the Rams put together, but it’s good enough to say that the Steelers definitely had a chance to go all the way.
The Bears would enjoy a bye in both versions of the Playoffs, but they weren’t able to make the most of it in the 2001 Season as they would lose to the Eagles, 33-19, in a game that the Eagles appeared to have under control basically throughout. We combine that with a 3-3 Regular Season record against Playoff-bound teams and that brings them to 3-4.
As much as we would want to give a team receiving the bye the benefit of the doubt, they had a points differential of -10 against Playoff-Bound teams when you include the Playoff loss to the Eagles, so it’s tough to say that these Bears really had a chance. The only area where you could really say they excelled was in not losing games that they were supposed to win.
The Green Bay Packers would split their actual Playoff Games being knocked out by the Rams in a 45-17 Divisional drubbing that contributed to the perception that the Patriots had nary a chance in the Super Bowl. That aside, these Packers would go 4-1 against Playoff-bound teams in the regular season (including beating the Bears twice) for a total record of 5-2 against Playoff teams. Even with the drubbing they took at the hands of the Rams in the Divisional Playoffs, the Packers would be +8 points differential against Playoff teams that year, which makes it tough to say that they didn’t have a chance---because they did.
Despite losing to the Packers 25-15 in the WildCard, San Francisco had an outstanding regular season and definitely deserved to be in the Playoffs...or did they? Actually, these 49ers would go 3-3 against Playoff-bound teams in the regular season, which includes two losses to the Rams. That brings their overall record against Playoff teams to 3-4 with a Points Differential of 0. What I see is a team that benefitted by consistently beating teams worse than they were that struggled against the cream of the crop in the league. They never had a chance.
The Dolphins were good that year? How did that happen? They weren’t so great in the Playoffs, losing 20-3 to the Ravens in the Wildcard game. They would also go 2-5 against Playoff-bound teams in the regular season for a total record of 2-6 against Playoff teams with a points differential of -82 against same. Unfortunately, they were simply terrible against the league’s best teams and never had a chance of going all the way. Despite a tough out of Division schedule, the Dolphins mostly managed to amass 11 regular season wins by virtue of not losing to non-Playoff teams.
The Eagles had an awesome Playoffs until they eventually ran into the St. Louis Rams as they would coast to a 31-9 victory against the Buccaneers in the WildCard round and emerge with a 33-19 victory against the Bears in the Divisional Playoffs. The NFC Championship game against the Rams was even close and would see the Eagles losing 29-24. For those of you keeping score, that’s a +31 points differential against some of the best teams.
In the regular season, the Eagles only had four opportunities to play would-be Playoff Teams and went 2-2 with a +1 Points Differential for a total of 4-3 with a +32 Points Differential against teams that would make the Playoffs. Only coming up six points shy of a Super Bowl appearance, it’s pretty clear that the Eagles had a chance to go all the way.
The Ravens would enter the Playoffs with a 20-3 win against the Miami Dolphins (who were clearly not as good as their record would indicate) followed by a 27-10 loss to Division rival, Pittsburgh Steelers, in the Divisional Round for a record of 1-1 and Points Differential of 0.
In the regular season, the Ravens would go 2-3 against Playoff-bound teams for a total record of 3-4 against such teams and final Points Differential of -21. These Ravens were certainly a pretty good team, but probably didn’t have much of a chance of taking it all the way.
The Jets would lose in the WildCard round of the Playoffs with a 38-24 (-14) result against the Oakland Raiders. The AFC East was well-represented in the 2001 Playoffs, but how did the Jets stack up against other Playoff-caliber opponents?
The Jets regular season schedule was tough as hell as they would play eight games against would-be Playoff teams and split those, 4-4, with a Points Differential of +4. When you combine that with their Playoff loss to the Raiders, you end up with a 4-5 record and -10 Points Differential against Playoff-bound opponents. Ultimately, we’re going to say they were just shy of having any meaningful chance of going all the way and should also point out that they were manhandled by the Rams, in a 34-14 home loss, during the Regular Season.
While they may have been the third-seed in the actual Playoffs, the Oakland Raiders managed to squeak into the 11th seed in our Adjusted Playoffs. They would beat the same Jets in the Playoffs (38-24) that had defeated them in the Regular Season before losing 16-13 to the New England Patriots for a 1-1 record and +11 Points Differential.
Did the Raiders deserve to be there in the first place, or did they benefit from a weak Division? Ultimately, they would go 1-2 against Playoff-Bound teams in the Regular Season for a points differential of +5 so a total of 2-3 record against Playoff teams with a +16 Points Differential. While we would have liked a bigger sample size on this one, the Raiders ultimately lost to Playoff-bound teams overall and mostly benefited from a very weak schedule. Having lost six regular season games overall, four of which were to non-Playoff teams and going on a three-game skid to barely squeak into the Playoffs...it’s really difficult to call this team a true contender. They probably shouldn’t have been there, but you know, Divisions.
Finally, the 2001 Tampa Bay Buccaneers were one and done in the Playoffs having been smacked around by the Philadelphia Eagles in a 31-9 ass-whipping in the Wildcard Round that would see the Buccaneers failing to even score in the second half. That’s 0-1 and -22 to start.
These Buccaneers managed to squeak into the final NFC Wildcard spot (and the final spot in our Adjusted Playoffs) despite going 3-4 against Playoff-bound opponents in the Regular Season with a points differential of -15 to bring them to 3-5 and a -37 differential against such teams, in total. To their credit, they visited the Gateway to the West and would beat the Rams during the regular season, but there’s no reason to believe they could have taken it all the way in the Playoffs.
Teams Receiving Points:
Patriots, Rams, Steelers, Packers, Eagles
2002 NFL SEASON
|Team||Non-Division WinsTeam||Division Wins||Non Division Losses||Division Record Against Non Division Teams||Adjusted Division Wins 1 +/- (.5 +/-x)||Adjusted Total Wins|
There cheers for Divisions that finally at least make sense! Starting this season, teams will play the same amount of Division Games as each other and will play ten games out of Division compared to six within.
We introduce the Houston Texans to the league, so you might be asking, “What could the NFL have done with thirty and thirty-one teams?” That’s simple. Just have conferences for a couple of seasons and play everyone in your Conference once. AFC has more teams? No problem, the AFC teams could play everyone in their Conference once, except for one team.
Also, make a tie result impossible...but that still hasn’t happened.
Personally, what I would like to see to take care of ties is that you play a full fifteen minute overtime, and then if the score is still tied, you revert to NCAAF rules. That’s a subject for another day, though.
Looking at the AFC East, only the New York Jets would make the Playoffs having won the Division (with three teams finishing with a 9-7 record) by way of tiebreakers. Interestingly enough, they would split their series with both the Patriots and Dolphins in the Regular Season and share the same Division winning percentage as the Patriots.
That fact kind of muddies the waters in our adjusted season because the Jets and Patriots have the same value in terms of Adjusted Wins. In our world, the Jets and Patriots also would never have played each other twice in the Regular Season...and we would make tie games impossible...so the head-to-head (if any) would decide it. The closest thing that we could look at in our world is Points Differential between the two teams head-to-head, which actually favors the Patriots, but since the Conference records were the same, we have to assume that the Jets got this Playoff spot based on record against common opponents...as the Patriots also had the best net Points Differential for the Regular Season.
The Steelers had one tie out of Division that is not being counted for the purposes of this analysis. With that, the Division would go 16-23 in non-division play and was clearly one of the weaker divisions in the game. Each of the other three teams in the Division would get to benefit from beating all over the hapless Cincinnati Bengals twice apiece during the Regular Season.
The Browns, however, made the Playoffs that year and it remains to be seen whether or not they actually deserved it. They actually had the best out of division record, but that doesn’t change the fact that they perhaps benefitted from getting to play the Bengals twice. Our analysis clearly says that the AFC East was the superior of the two divisions.
Nothing particularly interesting about the AFC South, other than the fact that the power was concentrated between the top two teams in that Division with the expansion Houston Texans being the Division’s whipping boy for the season.
Outside of their Division, the AFC West was outstanding with all four teams posting a record of .500, or better, so that the Division could go 24-16 overall in play outside of itself. The Broncos, who missed the Playoffs, end up right up there with the Patriots and the Division-winning Jets of the AFC East in terms of Adjusted Wins.
The NFC East would play pretty well outside of itself to amass a 22-18 record and get some Adjusted Wins that way, but that’s not going to change what teams appear in the Playoffs from this Division.
The NFC North was especially putrid this season and would amass a pitiful 13-27 record when playing outside of its own Division. The Green Bay Packers certainly didn’t mind and would pull off a 12-4 record that includes going 5-1 against Division opponents. They also had a winning record outside of their own Division, so clearly deserved to be in the Playoffs by any standard.
The NFC South was darn good and would amass an incredible record of 25-14 in games outside of their Division. Fortunately for the Falcons, their one tie was enough to get them into the Playoffs over Division Rival New Orleans Saints and they would have got in regardless for having the better Division record AND beating the Saints twice in the regular season.
In the case of our adjusted wins, our system has the same result in terms of preferring one to the other. However, our system sees that the Saints are better than a good many AFC teams and our system doesn’t care about conferences, so that could get interesting.
Going 17-23 in out of Division play, the NFC South wasn’t terribly good, but that’s not going to change who from that Division gets into the Playoffs. Not that it matters, but our method slightly prefers the Seahawks to the Rams (they split the regular season and the Seahawks had a better Points Differential in those matchups).
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Won Super Bowl and 12.564 Adjusted Wins
Philadelphia Eagles: 12.25 Wins
Oakland Raiders: 11.4 Wins
Green Bay Packers: 11.25 Wins
Tennessee Titans: 10.85 Wins
New York Giants: 10.25 Wins
Indianapolis Colts: 9.9 Wins
San Francisco 49ers: 9.625 Wins
Atlanta Falcons: 9.564 Wins
New Orleans Saints: 9.423 Wins
Pittsburgh Steelers: 9.4 Wins
Denver Broncos/New York Jets/New England Patriots 9.3 Wins
Our Adjusted Wins System has something to figure out, but first, let’s talk about the NFC.
As you may notice, we have seven NFC teams that immediately make the Playoffs.
However, the NFC would go 29-34 in Non-Conference games (one tie) which exposes the fact that Conferences are also stupid. Of course, that goes back to the old American Football League v. National Football League and the two teams coming together for the Super Bowl...but it’s all just ONE LEAGUE now and even some teams have switched from one conference to another, such as the Seattle Seahawks, who were in the AFC just the season prior!!!
So, why do Conferences and Divisions exist?
1.) While they are basically arbitrary now, Conferences came about simply because the league was once two totally different football leagues. Much like, “Interleague Play,” in Major League Baseball, there was once a time that the two Conferences wouldn’t have even played one another in the regular season.
That said, they are now arbitrary and do not exist to increase competition or reasonably determine a winner. Unfortunately, even our Adjusted Wins system would have difficult accounting for that fact without adding a step that would adjust for Out of Conference, as well as Out of Division play.
In the real world, there were nine teams with ten or more wins, and even after adjustment, all nine of those teams are still in. The Divisional Adjustment is meant to fix the margins and make it so that a 7-9 team ABSOLUTELY NEVER MAKES THE PLAYOFFS!!!!
This season, however, we would also see seven teams with nine wins...which would be perfect for a sixteen team Playoff, but a league that has half the teams make the Playoffs (by definition, including mediocre teams) has a terrible Playoff system anyway.
We will discuss it more later, but my proposal would be to have a simple eight-team Playoff.
2.) Divisions, unlike Conferences, at least exist for an actual theoretical purpose. The purpose is that each Divisional team plays the other teams within its Division twice and those teams are geographically closer. That is superior in the terms of money and time spend, but it is not superior in the competitive sense, which is what we are trying to fix.
But, for now, we have a decision to make.
Broncos: Beat Patriots, lost to Jets.
Jets: Split Patriots, Beat Broncos
Patriots: Split Jets, lost to Broncos.
With that, the New York Jets advance to our Playoffs with a 2-1 tiebreaking record and the head-to-head over the Broncos.
As far as the Cleveland Browns go, they played in the second-worst Division in the league and could only muster up a 3-3 record within that Division. They lost to the Steelers THREE TIMES that season, Playoffs included. They amassed a 9-7 record by virtue of beating the abysmal Cincinnati Bengals twice. The 2002 Cleveland Browns disgust me. They are out.
Does that mean the 2002 Saints had a chance? Well, actually, yes!
The 2002 Saints went 5-2 in the regular season against our Adjusted Wins Playoff Teams with a Points Differential of +26 in the process. In fact, the teams they lost to had a Saints-adjusted combined record of 28-59 whilst teams the Saints would defeat had a Saints-independent record of 68-49-1. They also beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers...the team that would go on to win the Super Bowl...twice.
The 2002 New Orleans Saints were an enigma. While the Browns would make the actual playoffs by virtue of beating the horrific Bengals twice and basically doing what they were supposed to against bad teams, the Saints did their best work against top level competition and dropped the ball (well, apparently, dropped lots of balls) against weaker opponents.
Of course, that’s where these kind of experiments get weird. One of the teams that the Saints lost to---the Cleveland Browns. Why couldn’t the Saints just be able to beat bad teams?
The New York Jets were actually really good in 2002; they just played in a tough as nails Division that included the previous season’s Super Bowl winner. Their two Playoff games included a 41-0 massacre of the Indianapolis Colts in the Wildcard round followed by taking a 30-10 drubbing at the hands of the Raiders for 1-1 and +21 points differential in the Playoffs.
Against Adjusted Wins Playoff teams, they would again go 1-1 playing both the Raiders and the Packers at a +19 differential for 2-2 overall with a +40 Points Differential.
However, the Raiders had the Jets number not once, but twice, and would beat them in both the Regular Season and the Playoffs. The long story short of the 2002 Jets is that they played a mediocre schedule with slightly better than mediocre results. We don’t think that they could have went all the way.
The 2002 Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t have a long Playoff run, but they at least took out the trash (the 2002 Browns) to complete a 3-0 sweep against them and get them out of the Playoffs by a score of 36-33. The Steelers would lose in Overtime (34-31) to the Titans the following week for a Playoff Record of 1-1 and Points Differential of 0.
In terms of Adjusted Wins Playoff Teams (which means the Browns no longer count) in the Regular Season, the Steelers would go 3-3 with a Points Differential of +7 for a total of 4-4 and +7 Points Differential against Adjusted Wins (and actual Playoffs) opponents overall. Most notably, they actually beat the Buccaneers, but that’s offset by the fact that they lost to the Titans in the regular season, as well.
Overall, we’re going to say that the 2002 Pittsburgh Steelers were very good, and definitely better than the Browns (as they proved three times), but probably no real threat to go all the way.
The Atlanta Falcons would easily eliminate the Green Bay Packers in the 2002 Wildcard Round by a score of 27-7 before being unceremoniously ejected by the Philadelphia Eagles in a 20-6 Divisional Round loss. The result is 1-1 there with a +6 Points Differential.
In terms of our regular season action against Adjusted Wins Playoff teams, the Falcons would amass a 3-3-1 record which included both a win and a loss to the Buccaneers. The final result is a 4-4-1 record against Adjusted Wins Playoff teams with a -19 Points Differential in such outings. They were a really good, but unremarkable, team who probably couldn’t have taken it all the way.
The 49ers would squeak by the New York Giants, 39-38, in the WildCard round and would go on to get smashed 31-6 by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Divisional Playoffs for a Playoff record of 1-1 and Points Differential of -24.
With that, we turn to their result against Adjusted Wins Playoff teams in the Postseason to see how that went for the team. Against such teams, the 49ers would amass a record of 2-3 with a Points Differential of -29 for an overall record against Playoff teams of 3-4 and a -53 Points Differential. Notably, they were blown out by both the Eagles and the Buccaneers, so while they were a solid team that year, it’s difficult to conclude that they had any reasonable shot of going all the way. There was clearly a world of difference between themselves and the best teams in the league.
The Indianapolis Colts found themselves totally demoralized by the New York Jets, losing 41-0 in the Wildcard round of the 2002 NFL Playoffs.
Even giving the Colts their win over the Cleveland Browns (who made the actual Playoffs, but not our Adjusted Wins Playoffs), the Broncos still went 2-4 with a -26 Points Differential against Playoff-caliber teams for an overall record of 2-5 and -67 points against such teams. Nah. The only reason that they made the Playoffs at all was they got to capitalize from whipping all over the doormat Jaguars and expansion Texans twice apiece that year. They had no real shot of bringing home the Lombardi.
The New York Giants, as we mentioned, were the recipients of a narrow 39-38 Playoff loss in the Wildcard round to the San Francisco 49ers. However, they did play in an above average Division that year, so perhaps we will see the Giants perform well in the regular season against the league’s best teams, or at least hold their own.
As it turns out, the Giants just weren’t that good. Including another close loss to San Francisco to begin the year, the Giants would go 2-4 against Playoff-caliber teams with a -7 Points Differential for an overall record of 2-5 against such teams and -8 PD overall. As if that wasn’t bad enough, they also lost to the expansion Houston Texans. Just a subpar team that year that managed to massage their way into a Wildcard spot by doing well-enough against the league’s poorer teams.
Our adjusted Playoffs don’t care about conferences, so the Titans would have been stripped of their first round bye in our metric, but they had it in real life. They beat the Steelers 34-31 in the Divisional Round and appeared in the AFC Championship that would see them losing to the Raiders 41-24. That’s 1-1 with a Points Differential of -14.
In the regular season, even if we include their three point loss to the Browns and despite getting drubbed by the Raiders (again) by 27 points, the Titans would go 5-2 against Playoff-caliber teams with a +2 differential for a 6-3 record overall and -12 differential against such teams.
Conceivably, there may have been paths to the Super Bowl not involving the Raiders had the team been bounced in the Divisional Round. Despite the apparent elephant in the Titans’ locker room, we’re going to say that they were a legitimate contender and could have went all the way had they been able to figure out an answer to the Raiders.
The Green Bay Packers, led by QB Brett Favre, were an apparently solid team in the 2002 Season and would have enjoyed a First Round bye since our metric doesn’t care about Conferences. Unfortunately, reality and league rules had different plans and they would get bounced in the Wildcard by the Atlanta Falcons to the tune of 27-7.
The Packers managed to beat the Falcons in the first game of their regular season, but otherwise enjoyed the fruits of playing in the absolute worst Division in the league. How bad was the Division, well, the Packers (their best team, by far) would go 1-4 in the regular season against Playoff-caliber teams with a -57 Points Differential to make 1-5 and -77 on the year.
In short, the Packers were good at beating up on mediocre and terrible teams. If you put them up against a better-than-average team, then they were probably going to lose. NOT a contender to go all the way. What makes the Playoffs the Playoffs is that games usually feature at least one above average team.
We should say that the Raiders didn’t have a chance because their Center mysteriously vanished a day or two before the Super Bowl, they changed from a run-heavy attack to pass heavy two nights before the Super Bowl (you can look into that, if you like) and that they were running the same offensive plays and scheme that Jon Gruden, their HC the year prior, had been running with them.
It has been widely reported that Buccaneers defenders were calling out the Raiders’ upcoming offensive plays in real time.
That’s kind of a shame, if true, because the Raiders were otherwise outstanding that year! After securing a first-round bye, they danced to the Super Bowl with a 30-10 victory over the Jets in the Divisional Round (the Jets did not score in the second half) followed by a 41-24 Conference Championship win over the Tennessee Titans (more competitive than the score appears).
Ultimately, they would go 2-1 in the Playoffs with a Points Differential of +10 after their 27 point Super Bowl loss to the Buccaneers. It was apparent that the game was as good as over by halftime.
In the regular season, the Raiders would go 3-1 with a +43 Points Differential against Playoff-caliber teams, and despite the apparent dearth of Playoff opponents, their schedule was actually quite difficult. As you can see above, they played in one of the toughest Divisions in the league that year and also drew the tougher-than-average AFC East (all teams at .500, or better) for four games. Similarly, all of the teams in the AFC West were .500, or better.
In total, they only played two games against teams with losing seasons, so their schedule (despite the apparent absence of Playoff teams) was absolutely brutal.
Did they tank the big one for Chucky? Conspiracy theories abound. But, true or not, they definitely could have went all the way.
Finally, the Eagles were the recipients of the bye and would win the Divisional Round 20-6 against the Atlanta Falcons before dropping the Conference Championship to the Bucs by a score of 27-10 for a Points Differential of -3.
In the regular season, they went 3-3 against Playoff-bound teams with a Points Differential of +17 for a record of 4-4 and Points Differential of +14 overall. Notably, they would beat the eventual Super Bowl winner, the Buccaneers, during the regular season. With that, it’s pretty apparent that they could have went all the way.
Points Awarded to Buccaneers, Eagles, Raiders, Titans & Saints.
TO BE CONTINUED…
This has already been pretty long, so that’s where we are going to leave it for the time being. In the coming weeks, we will look at some other seasons in bigger chunks and eventually see how many times your team could have realistically gone all the way in a given season.
We will also discuss what system I would use to replace the current NFL system. Obviously, playing 31 Regular Season games would be impractical, so, what do you do?