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The Most and Least Penalized Teams in the NFL

With the exception of baseball, winning games in most other sports can correlate with avoiding penalties (or fouls).  The NFL is no exception, offensive penalties can kill drives, meanwhile defensive penalties can extend opponent drives.  

We decided to see who the most and least penalized teams have been over the last 20 years and how it pertains to their season record and playoff success.


Not surprising that just two of the most penalized teams made the playoffs, the 1993 LA Raiders (who lost in the AFC Divisional round) and the 2005 New York Giants (losing 23-0 to the Panthers in the Wild Card round).

On the opposite end of the spectrum, let's look at some of the most disciplined teams in the last 20+ years.

The 2012 Atlanta Falcons had the least number of penalties recorded in 20+ years, and they made it to the NFC Final. In 2010 they had the 3rd least and fell to the Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers in the NFC Divisional round.  

Overall though, of the least penalized teams that made the playoffs their post season success was terrible.  The '92 Saints, and '01 Jets lost in the wild card round, and the '90 Dolphins and '01 Bears lost their first playoff games (divisional) too.  Other than Atlanta, the 2007 Seahawks were the only team to win a single playoff game.  

Not one even made the Super Bowl let alone win.  We had to go to the 49th least penalized NFL team to find the 2007 New York Giants before we discovered a team that won the Super Bowl.

Could it be that teams with an abnormally low number of penalties have slightly inflated regular season records?  Yet when the playoffs roll around and games are tightly officiated, that advantage goes away?

3 of the 10 least penalized teams failed to make the playoffs.  The 2008 Patriots that went 11-5 with Matt Cassel as their quarterback, the 1991 Dolphins, and 2007 Jets.

In our effort to find something out of penalty statistics, we calculated penalty differential for all teams since 1990, differentials of net yards due to penalties, and more.   One would think a team that consistently draws more penalties than it makes would be better off.  The truth is for every disciplined team with a good record, there's a disciplined team with a bad record (on a differential basis).

In conclusion, less penalized teams tend to have more success in the regular season, but when playoff time rolls...forget it.

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