Culture of Hoops

Yin and Yang: Division Disparity in the NFL

Image courtesy of 55th Street/Flickr.

Image courtesy of 55th Street/Flickr.

Around Week 7 of the NFL season I wrote an article on the NFC South. It centered around how none of the teams had winning records, and how each team had faltered thus far, and what they could do to fix it. Clearly none of these teams or their management read the article. Weeks later the division leader has exactly one more win than the team leading the standings in Week 7. The entire division has 13 wins combined. The league division average is 22 wins, and the division with the most (AFC North) has 28. Speaking of the league-leader, the AFC North is absolutely crushing it. Every single team in the division has seven wins each. There will be one team at a minimum or as many as three teams at maximum that don’t see the playoffs out of that division this year, and that saddens me. In the world of the NFL there is always teams and divisions in flux, a Yin and Yang if you will. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it so black and white as I have with these two divisions this year.

The culmination of how different the seasons have been for these two divisions was played out in the Monday Night showdown between the New Orleans Saints and the Baltimore Ravens. Based on records alone the outcome of a Raven victory should have been easy enough to guess, despite me picking the Saints to win that game. My logic was that the Saints play very well at home, and the Baltimore defense isn’t what it once was. It was a close victory, but how many points you win by doesn’t really come into play much. For the sake of my own curiosity I did do the math. The NFC South is a collective -195 in point differential. Only the Saints are not in the negative column, sitting at plus-two on the year (which for a 4 – 7 team is pretty remarkable). In contrast the AFC North is +147, with each and every team with a positive contribution.

Every year teams rise and fall, the whole point of the divisional setup is to make sure each division has representation, and to try to overcome those limitations when there are teams mired in really strong or really soft divisions. I would almost rather see the NFL do away with divisions all together and have teams play the 16 teams located nearest them in the standing from last year. It would shake things up and put the same level of importance on every game. It would also allow fans a chance to see more variation in the teams they get to see.

It’s hard enough to watch a team like the Oakland Raiders get demolished over and over again by teams like the Denver Broncos, but when a whole division is falling apart it’s really not fair to the fans to have a team with a losing record have a home playoff game and a team with a winning record sitting at home. The system was set up to try to create the best matchups for fans in the playoffs (that’s the Yin), but when the unthinkable happens it also produces the worst scenarios possible (the Yang).

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