After the New Orleans Saints lost to the Baltimore Ravens on Monday Night Football, it set up the very real possibility that the NFL could have its second team in league history with a losing record to win a division (not counting the strike-shortened 1982 season), and it could be the worst record of all-time to win a division.
In 2010, the Seattle Seahawks were the first team to win a division with a losing record. Their 7-9 season then beat out St. Louis’ 7-9 season and the Seahawks were in the playoffs.
This year, the South is taking that to a new low. Because the NFL seeds its playoff teams by division winners first, the Atlanta Falcons are currently the fourth-seeded team in the NFC with a 4-7 record. They are three games behind the next closest team (the 7-4 Seahawks) currently projected to make the playoffs.
Besides the strike season of 1982, when only nine regular-season games were played, the 2010 Seahawks were the only losing team to make playoffs. There have been 11 teams with a .500 record to the make the playoffs dating back to the 1969 Houston Oilers, but the NFC South could be poised to send a 6-10 team to the playoffs for the first time in NFL history.
In the NFC, the Arizona Cardinals (9-2) and Green Bay Packers (8-3) would get the byes if the playoffs started this weekend, with the Philadelphia Eagles (8-3) host the Seahawks, and the Falcons hosting the Dallas Cowboys (8-3).
The AFC paints a better picture of the healthy teams. The Patriots (9-2) and Denver Broncos (8-3) are currently the top teams in that conference and would get a bye. Below them but also making the playoffs would be the Cincinnati Bengals (7-3-1) hosting the San Diego Chargers (7-4), and the Indianapolis Colts (7-4) hosting the Kansas City Chiefs (7-4).
While only six teams from each conference make the playoffs, all of the top 10 teams in the AFC – including the Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns all at 7-4 and the Miami Dolphins at 6-5 – have winning records. The ninth- and 10th-place teams (the Chicago Bears at 5-6 and the Saints) in the NFC have losing records.
Of course, the AFC North is the division of winners this year. It is the only division to have every team with a winning record. No team there is worse than 7-4 and all are within a half game of each other. It’s reminiscent of the 2002 AFC East, when three teams – the Jets, Patriots and Dolphins – all finished 9-7 and the Bills were 8-8.
The AFC North is the first division in NFL history to have every team at least three games over .500 at any point in a season.
Through 12 weeks of NFL play, there are 16 teams with at least seven wins, the most through 11 games in NFL history.
Here are some other notes to know as the playoff push advances for teams, and as individuals make their marks, too:
Sources: NFL.com and STATS