Free Report: 10 Powerful Technical Chart Formations

The NFL Playoffs have Become Repetitive


One of the NFL’s biggest selling points from a fan’s point of view relies on parity and how each team is just a couple of moves away from becoming a contender. In terms of championships, this has held true for the bigger part of the 21st Century, with no franchise being able to win consecutive championships since the 2003-2004 Patriots, and with franchises like Seattle and New Orleans being able to win their first title. On a week to week basis, we are able to see upsets and great games, which keep the NFL attractive and still a great product for the fans.

And yet, the last few years have provided a change that may not be as appealing from a neutral point of view. While it is a normal thing that contention windows last at least a couple of seasons, and that good players can keep teams in the hunt for long periods of time, it is always refreshing to see new faces competing for the sport’s highest honors.

As a few franchises have been able to hold strong quarterback-coach combos, and smart drafting has become the ultimate differentiator, it seems as if we continue to see a similar set of contenders year after year. The 2002 divisional realignment that remains active created a new set of playoff combinations, and so we can compare every year since with its previous counterpart and see how many playoff teams have repeated from season to season.

The realignment proved to be a difference-maker in its inaugural stages, with only three playoff teams repeating from 2002 to 2003. That stretch was followed by an 8-season span from 2004 to 2011 in which an average of only 5.1 teams repeated postseason spots in consecutive years, which seems perfectly normal by NFL standards. However, that has been followed by a four-year streak that has been consistent in having similar teams going back to the playoffs.

NFL Playoff Field 2010-2015

Division

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

AFC East

Patriots

Patriots

Patriots

Patriots

Patriots

Patriots

AFC North

Steelers

Ravens

Ravens

Bengals

Steelers

Bengals

AFC South

Colts

Texans

Texans

Colts

Colts

Texans

AFC West

Chiefs

Broncos

Broncos

Broncos

Broncos

Broncos

AFC Wild Card

Jets

Steelers

Bengals

Chiefs

Bengals

Chiefs

AFC Wild Card

Ravens

Bengals

Colts

Chargers

Ravens

Jets*

NFC East

Eagles

Giants

Redskins

Eagles

Cowboys

Redskins

NFC North

Bears

Packers

Packers

Packers

Packers

Packers*

NFC South

Falcons

Saints

Falcons

Panthers

Panthers

Panthers

NFC West

Seahawks

49ers

49ers

Seahawks

Seahawks

Cardinals

NFC Wild Card

Packers

Lions

Vikings

Saints

Lions

Seahawks

NFC Wild Card

Saints

Falcons

Seahawks

49ers

Cardinals

Vikings*

                                                      *entering Week 17

With the Broncos clinching the AFC West to close out Week 16, it will mean that we will see 7 repeat playoff squads for the third straight season, which were precluded by a record 8-team double-dip from 2011 to 2012. Is this a good thing for the league? Is it a blip or a trend? Why has it become more frequent in recent seasons? Today we try to answer these questions as we await the 2015 playoffs.

First of all, we can point out to the recent surge of Hall of Fame quarterbacks and the dynasties they have created. Even with 14 years under the current divisional settings, there have been 3 teams that haven’t won a single division title (Bills, Browns, Jaguars), while there have been 4 teams with at least 7 divisional crowns (New England, Indianapolis, Green Bay, and Seattle). Things haven’t been made simpler by the fact that a quarter of the league hasn’t made the postseason for at least 7 years.

Alongside the three teams with no divisional titles since 2002, the Raiders, Rams, Buccaneers, Titans, and Dolphins are still awaiting for a chance to sniff January football once more. During the same span, teams like the Patriots, Bengals, Broncos, Colts, Packers, Panthers, and Seahawks have made it a habit to be on the postseason almost every year, which is bound to happen again in 2015.

In many ways, this can’t be a positive trend for the NFL, as it suggests that only a handful of franchises are on a superior plane, while the rest of the league can only hope for a rare opportunity to contend for a title. For instance, the Vikings and Jets will probably break long playoff absences when the regular season ends, but they are not considered serious threats in a league where the teams they will face having much more postseason experience and better talent overall.

Despite all the talk regarding the lack of repeat Super Bowl winners, the 13 available titles under the current format have been distributed among only 9 franchises. Even as that is far from the level of NBA-type competition levels, it has to be a bit worrisome for the league to consider that many of its smaller franchises are being left behind despite their better draft positioning and the perceived parity of the sport.

However, not all news is bad regarding the health of the sport and its contenders. While there is nothing we can do about the 2015 playoff field, that may all start to change as soon as next year, as a generational shift is already starting to take place in teams like the Broncos and Packers, who will need help to stave off the legion of up-and-coming teams in their respective divisions. Also, current rookies like Tennessee’s Marcus Mariota and Tampa Bay’s Jameis Winston will continue their development as the NFL is in search of new faces.

So while we are not clamoring for every division to become like the NFC East (4 winners in 5 years), or probably the AFC North (3 winners in 5 seasons), the league would be best served by finding a balance that is beneficial for the product and the evergreen fans who expect their teams to be competitive more often than not. In a sport where we follow the “any given Sunday” mindset, let’s hope that this current trend is broken soon for the sake of the league.

For now, all we have left is to enjoy the final week of the regular season and the ensuing playoffs, which would be even better if they are full of surprises.



Latest Articles


TEAM UP