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Division games are important

This post is motivated by Hogs Haven reader mmford10's latest diary, Reason #7 why the Redskins will win the NFC East, where he points to our schedule as a positive. I totally agree with him on that, as we have (what appears to be) a series of winnable games both at home and on the road.

I commented in that thread that winning division games was an indicator of postseason teams. I posted some numbers from 2005 and 2006, though anything worth doing is worth doing right, exhaustively. We're sneaking all the way back to 2002, when the divisions were split up to accomodate the Houston Texans. I'll stipulate that the difference between a 3-3 and a 4-2 division record is fairly pointed as it relates to any particular team's ability to reach the postseason. And some data:

2002 - 14 teams had a 4-2 division record or better. 11 of them went to the postseason. Only one team with a 3-3 record or worse went to the playoffs: (surprisingly) Cleveland (3-3).

2003 - 14 teams had a 4-2 division record or better. 12 of them went to the postseason. Zero teams with a 3-3 record or worse went to the playoffs.

2004 - 9 teams had a 4-2 division record or better. 8 of them went to the postseason. Four teams with a 3-3 record or worse went to the playoffs: Jets (3-3), Denver (3-3), Minnesota (3-3), and Seattle (3-3).

2005 - 14 teams had a 4-2 division record or better. 12 of them went to the postseason. Zero teams with a 3-3 record or worse went to the playoffs.

2006 - 14 teams had a 4-2 division record or better. 9 of them went to the postseason. Three teams with a 3-3 record or worse went to the playoffs: Colts (3-3), Cowboys (2-4), and Seattle (3-3).

Total: 65 teams had a 4-2 division record or better since 2002. 52 of them went to the postseason. 8 teams with a 3-3 record or worse have gone to the postseason in that same time period. 80% of teams that have had a 4-2 or better record since 2002 have gone to the postseason. Teams with a 3-3 or worse division record represent 13% of playoff teams since 2002.

Conclusion: This isn't scientific, as I'm not enough of a stat nerd to actually compute anything (I let others do it for me), but I'd say you aren't doing yourself any favors, as relates to the postseason, by winning less than 4 division games. In 2005 we were 5-1 in division, and a loss in any of those 5 games would have meant our playoff spot belonged to Minnesota instead, I think.

The question then becomes, how do we get to a 4-2 or better divisional record? That requires at least one sweep, and there has to be a garbage team in the NFC East to spank. I tend to agree with zknower that the easiest team to beat, right now, would be the Giants.

That is by no means a prediction. The Giants aren't pushovers, and there's no guarantee that we will necessarily lose at least one game to either the Eagles or Cowboys. But I think the data strongly suggests that how we play against those three teams will largely dictate whether we're still playing football come next January.