The NFL recently sent out a chart of information highlighting each team's divisional titles and playoff appearances since the league's realignment in 2002.
Of course, playoff appearances are all fine and dandy. But the chart didn't tell us a lot until we added in columns highlighting conference and Super Bowl championships over the same period.
We needed to add this info because, after all, your team might boast a nifty four division titles since 2002, among the most in the league over that period, but then they might have pissed it all away because, purely for example:
If you happened to be the quarterback in either of these situations, you're probably sitting at home right now in Mississippi waiting for the phone to ring.
But we digress.
The handy-dandy chart the NFL provided, along with our little additions, will help you size up each team's success for yourself since the realignment of 2002.
The handy-dandy chart is followed by the typically sweeping, all-encompassing Cold, Hard Football Facts that we pulled from the list.
Hey, maybe there is something to this "parity" thing!
But probably not.
If "parity" existed we wouldn't have not one but two organizations – Indy and New England – in the midst of historic periods of dominance. After all "parity," by definition, implies that there are no dominant powers.
With that said, 27 of 32 teams have reached the playoffs since the realignment of 2002. In other words, almost every team has had a nibble of postseason success over the past six years, which is certainly good for the league and for the hopes and dreams of fans everywhere (well, except for the hopes and dream of fans in Arizona, especially as the team prepares to make the same mistake twice by playing Matt Leinart ahead of Kurt Warner
... but we digress).
Of course, 27 of 32 only sounds impressive until you realize that even Major League Baseball – a sport with absolutely zero in the way of "parity" – has sent 20 of 30 teams to the playoffs over the same period. And baseball sends only eight teams to the playoffs each year, compared with 12 in the NFL. We know parity doesn't exist in baseball because the Boston Red Sox once went 86 years without a championship – and have still won more World Series rings (7) than every team in baseball but the Yankees (26) and Cardinals (10).
In any case, we'll have more on this topic before the start of the season.
The once-proud playoff bye-week has gone the way of the flying wedge
Realignment has had a profound, earth-shaking effect upon playoff competitiveness.
There once was a time, for example, when that bye-week after the regular season meant everything.
But the last three Super Bowl champions – Steelers, Colts and Giants – all played on wildcard weekend.
To put that into perspective, only three of the 24 previous Super Bowl champions since the NFL created the wildcard round (1978) had played on wildcard weekend: the 1980 Raiders, 1997 Broncos, and 2000 Ravens.
Then, suddenly, we have three straight champions who have taken the long road to the Lombardi Trophy.
Anybody else feel an abrupt change in the Force?
Of course, the realignment of 2002 forced two division winners to play on wildcard weekend (from 1990 to 2001, it was just one; before that it was zero). So, it seems, better teams are now forced to play on wildcard weekend.
But "better teams in the wildcard round" doesn't explain the 2005 Steelers and 2007 Giants. Before the 2005 Steelers, no team in history had won three straight road playoff games and the Super Bowl. But then the Giants suddenly duplicated the feat two years later.
Again ... Force ... change ...feel it?
Realignment may not be the reason for the abrupt change in the competitive nature of the playoffs. But the coincidence in timing is awfully curious.
It will also be handy to keep this information in your back pocket come December, when fans and "pundits" are making a big deal over the bye-week. To quote our favorite summer-camp counselor, Tripper Harrison
, "it just doesn't matter ... it just doesn't matter."
The NFL is still a top-heavy league
The dominance of Indy and New England has been fairly well chronicled here and elsewhere (and is even highlighted again below).
But the Colts and Patriots don't tell the whole story. There have been 48 division championships since realignment (eight each year). A mere eight teams (one quarter of the league) have won 31 of those 48 division titles (64.6 percent).
It seems there's usually a lot of movement around the middle of the pack, but the top of the league has been fairly consistent since 2002.
The Black & Blow division lives down to the hype ...
We renamed the old "Black & Blue Division" the "Black & Blow Division
" back in 2006 because it's just a shadow of what it was when it was created in the 1960s
. The division's success, or lack thereof, since 2002 is evident from looking at the list.
The NFC North has sent just seven teams to the playoffs since 2002, just one more mandated by the league and its pesky "division winners automatically reach the playoffs" rule.
The Packers have won four of six division crowns since 2002. The Bears have claimed the other two. The lone other playoff appearance belongs to the Vikings - a pathetic 8-8 wildcard team in 2004.
Yet further evidence of the futility of the NFC North is evident by the fact that those 2004 Vikings became just the second .500 team in history to win a playoff game: they knocked off the 10-6 division champ Packers ... in Green Bay. (The ice was broken just a day earlier when the 8-8 Rams became the first .500 team to win a playoff game with their victory against mighty Seattle
For those still on the Brett Favre watch
... it was No. 4, in case you couldn't tell from the hints at the top of the story, who tossed an even four INTs against the Vikings that day to become one of the only QBs in history to lose a playoff game to a .500 team. Yet another multi-pick feather in Favre's playoff cap.
... But the AFC East ain't far behind
Despite the hairy, 2,000-pound gridiron gorilla sitting there in the extreme Northeastern corner of the nation, the AFC East has otherwise been fairly inept since realignment. Let's put it this way: when the Jets are the second best team in the division, you got problems.
The AFC East is the only division that's sent just two of its members to the playoffs since 2002. Buffalo and Miami are still waitin' to get there.
Still, that's one really big gorilla sitting there in the AFC East
Sure, New England's loss in Super Bowl XLII put the entire populations of six states into a deep communal depression. But it's just mesmerizing what the Patriots have done this decade.
Even discounting their pre-realignment Super Bowl title in 2001, the Patriots have still appeared in more Super Bowls (3) and won more Super Bowls (2) than any other entire division combined since realignment.
The NFC East remains a dominant power
The NFC East is really the glory division of the NFL, and it seems it's been that way for a long time.
Not only does the NFC East boast four old-school, big-market teams and a bevy of big-name stars on both sides of the ball, it's also the most consistently competitive division in football. The NFC East has ruled the NFL for large stretches of the Super Bowl Era, capturing nine of 19 NFL championships from 1977 to 1995, for example.
It's also been the pre-eminent division in football since re-alignment, with a league-leading 13 playoff appearances over that period. Oh, yeah, and there was something about a big upset in the Super Bowl last year.
The more things change, the more they stay the same
You could Gerrymander the league until it represents a DNC-engineered congressional district. It won't change the fortunes of the truly inept. No surprise, for example, that Arizona, the worst franchise in history, and Detroit, the NFL's biggest joke over the past three or four decades, remain two of just five teams that have yet to reach the postseason since the 2002 realignment. They're joined in this lowly condition by the Bills, Dolphins and Texans, the last of whom was an expansion team in 2002.