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Was the NFC East really a “weak” division in 2018?

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Has the BEast really transformed into the LEast?

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants NorthJersey.com-USA TODAY NETWOR

I get no respect at all - When I was a kid, I lost my parents at the beach. I asked a lifeguard to help me find them. He said “I don’t know kid, there are so many places they could hide”.

I tell ya, I don’t get no respect ... Last week, my wife told me that she was going to cut me down to twice a month. But I thought about it, and I figured that it wasn’t too bad. I know a couple of guys that she cut out completely.

When I was a kid I got no respect. When my parents got divorced there was a custody fight over me... and no one showed up.

No respect at all - even my parents didn’t like me. For bathtub toys they gave me a blender and a transistor radio.

What a childhood I had. My mother never breast-fed me. She said she liked me as a friend.

The Rodney Dangerfield of the NFL

I read this paragraph in a Yahoo Sports article recently:

The year began with such promise. The Redskins started the year 6-3. They owned the NFC East — a weak division, sure, but still one with a guaranteed playoff berth — and even though there were the typical bumps in the road, the bandwagon appeared headed in the right direction.

Those four words in the middle, “a weak division, sure,” caught my attention. This year, 2018, saw a resurgence of the rather generalized assumption that the NFC East is a ‘weak’ division. That claim seems to surface anytime the Redskins sit at the top of the division. I read it in 2012, when RG3 led the team to a division title. I read it again in 2015, when Kirk Cousins led the Redskins to another division championship. It resurfaced again this season when a healthy Alex Smith led the team to a game & a half lead on the rest of the division.

But it’s not just journalists and pundits who proclaim the weakness of the NFC East — its loudest critics are often its own fans in DC, Philly, Dallas and New York. We often decry the division as being competitive and wildly unpredictable when it comes to the 4 teams in the division, but ‘weak’ when it comes to playing outside the division.

I thought I’d briefly explore the question: Is the NFC East a “weak” division in 2018?

Regular season W-L records

Every NFL team plays 16 games per season, but 6 of those are against division opponents. That leaves 6 other games inside the same conference, and 4 games against a division from the opposing conference — ten games in all outside the division for each team. That’s 40 non-divisional games for each conference in a season.

What happened in 2018?

Based on this analysis, the AFC South, led by Houston and Indianapolis, was the strongest division in the 2018 regular season, winning 23 of 40 non-division games (57.5%).

The NFC East ranks 6th out of 8 divisions, sitting one game under .500. You can see, though, that the margins are quite thin; just 3 games separate 2nd place and 6th place in this analysis.

For those who might not trust my calculations, here are the detailed breakdowns for each team and each division:

Superbowls

Of course, only one division can boast the Super Bowl champion in any given season. This year, the Lombardi Trophy resides in Philly, which puts it in the NFC East. woo hoo.

Of course, if we want to take a medium to long-term view, no division can boast more success than the AFC East, because no team has had more success in the past 20 years than the Patriots.

Looking at a 20-year period, here’s how the divisions shake out:

AFC East (5)

  • Patriots (SB 36, 38, 39, 49, 51)

AFC North (4)

NFC East (3)

AFC West (2)

AFC South (2)

NFC West (2)

NFC South (1)

  • Buccanneers (SB 37)

NFC North (1)

Over the past 20 years, the NFC East stacks up fairly well, having won 3 superbowls, behind only the AFC East (Patriots) and the AFC North (Ravens & Steelers).

You might accuse me of ‘cherry picking’ the dates a bit, but I really didn’t.

If we took the longer term view and looked at the past 32 seasons, then we would add 7 superbowl titles from the NFC East in those 12 seasons, giving our division 10 Lombardi trophies in 32 years. If we stuck with round numbers, then it would be 8 league championships in 30 years.

If we shorten the time frame, the NFC East has 3 Championships in 11 years — which is the highest total, or 2 in 10 years, which ties for the most (with the AFCN & AFCE).

So, at both shorter term and longer term — at 10 years, 11 years, 30 years and 32 years — the NFC East has either the most Lombardi Trophies of any division, or is tied for the most.

By picking 20 years, I actually put the division in the least attractive light.

2018 playoffs

The first thing to note is that the NFC East is one of the 4 divisions in the NFL to send two teams to the playoffs this season.

With the Texans and Seahawks eliminated, only the NFC East and AFC West still have two teams alive, and the NFC East is the only division to have a 2-0 record in the current playoffs.

Balance

Strength is sometimes looked at by focusing at the top of the division, and when we do that, the NFC East looks pretty bad. Only the AFC North (Ravens) and NFC East (Cowboys) have division winners with only 10 wins.

But when you look down the standings, things appear better. The Eagles finished in second place with 9 wins. Only the Colts and Chargers — the two other Wildcard teams that won in the first round of the playoffs — had more wins.

The Redskins finished in third place, with a 7-9 record. Only one third-place team (the Titans) finished with more than 7 wins.

Among the last-place teams, only the Lions and Bengals finished with more wins than the Giants.

Five games separated the top team (Dallas) from the last-place team (New York); only the AFC North (4 games) was closer.

In summary

We often hear that the NFC East is a “weak” division — we especially hear it whenever the Redskins sit atop the standings.

It is certainly true that the division did not excel in terms of its regular season won-loss record against non-division opponents, yet two divisions (AFCE, NFCW) did even worse, and only 3 games separate the 2nd place and 6th place divisions.

But the NFC East boasts two playoff teams among the 8 teams still in the hunt for a Super Bowl trophy, which is well-above the odds.

I haven’t even discussed individual players. When you start listing those players: Adrian Peterson, Saquon Barkley, Ezekiel Elliott, Daron Payne, Jon Allen, Michael Bennett, Haloti Ngata, Fletcher Cox, Demarcus Lawrence... well, you get the idea... there’s plenty of talent in the division.

The NFC East is the home of the reigning Super Bowl champion — a team that is still in the hunt for its second consecutive league championship.

If you look back over eleven years or thirty-two years, the division has produced the largest number of Super Bowl champions in the league. Over ten years or thirty years, the division is tied for that honor, and, in the end, championships are the real measure of quality. Only by cherry picking 20 years can we find a time frame that pushes the NFC East down to 3rd place behind the Patriots and the NFC North.

Finally, except for the AFC North, where the Ravens took the division title with 10 wins and the Bengals brought up the rear at 6-10, the NFC East is probably the most competitive division, where no team has repeated as division champs since the Eagles last did so in 2004.

Poll

So what do you think? Is the NFC East a weak division?

This poll is closed

  • 15%
    Yes
    (53 votes)
  • 84%
    No
    (282 votes)
335 votes total Vote Now