Looking back at the best, worst divisions in NFL history originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
The AFC West is poised to be the NFL’s “group of death” in 2022.
The term, which is typically reserved for the World Cup and UEFA Champions League, is used for one group that is deemed more daunting than the rest because of its depth and talent. Heading into the new NFL season, the AFC West has plenty of both.
At the top sit the Kansas City Chiefs. The team has perhaps the league’s best quarterback in Patrick Mahomes, won a Super Bowl just three seasons ago and is a six-time-reigning division champion. Star wide receiver Tyreek Hill was traded from K.C. to Miami this offseason, and every other AFC West team used the offseason to reload.
The Las Vegas Raiders, who earned a wild card berth last year, brought in an All-Pro receiver of their own in Davante Adams, along with a new head coach in Josh McDaniels. The Denver Broncos have a new head coach, Nathaniel Hackett, and decorated quarterback, Russell Wilson, running the show as they aim to snap a six-year playoff drought. Lastly, the Los Angeles Chargers, who were an overtime loss away from earning the Raiders’ playoff spot, brought in Khalil Mack, J.C. Jackson and more talent to surround Justin Herbert on their star-studded roster.
All four AFC West organizations have playoff aspirations – or more – this season. There have been instances where three teams from the same division since the NFL realigned divisions to their current format in 2002, but an expanded playoff field introduced two seasons ago gives all four AFC West teams a chance to make the postseason together.
Just how good can one division be without completely beating up on one another? Here’s a look at some of the best – and worst – performances by a division in recent NFL history:
Which division has won the most games in a single season?
If the 2022 AFC West is looking for a blueprint, it can look to the 2007 AFC South and 2013 NFC West.
The Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans combined to go 42-22 in 2007, setting a single-division record for wins in a season. The Colts won the division with a 13-3 record, while the 11-5 Jags and 10-6 Titans claimed the two AFC wild card spots. The Texans went a respectable 8-8 in 2007, including 7-3 against non-division foes. It was their 1-5 combined record against the Colts, Titans and Jags that kept them from making a playoff run.
In 2013, the Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers, Arizona Cardinals and St. Louis Rams matched the 2007 AFC South’s mark with a 42-22 record. The Seahawks won the division at 13-3, but they were only joined by one other division rival in the postseason. The 49ers earned the conference’s top wild card spot with a 12-4 record, but the 10-6 Cardinals and 8-8 Rams missed out.
In all, there have been five divisions where their teams combined to win 40 or more games in one season:
2007 AFC South: 42-22
2007 NFC East: 40-24
2008 NFC South: 40-24
2013 NFC West: 42-22
2021 NFC West: 40-28
Three of those divisions sent three teams to the playoffs. Most recently, the eventual Super Bowl champion Rams, Cardinals and 49ers all won double-digit contests to punch their tickets to the postseason in 2021, the first season to feature a 17-game schedule. The Seahawks, meanwhile, were on the outside looking in with a 7-10 record.
Which division has won the fewest games in a single season?
On the opposite end of the scale, there have been some putrid overall outputs by divisions over the last 20 years. In all, there have been eight times where one division combined to lose 40 games in a season, including seven before the NFL added an addition game for every team in 2021:
2008 AFC West: 23-41
2008 NFC West: 22-42
2009 NFC West: 24-40
2013 AFC South: 24-40
2014 NFC South: 22-41-1
2019 NFC East: 24-40
2020 NFC East: 23-40-1
2021 AFC South: 28-40
The Chargers and Broncos had matching 8-8 records in 2008, but San Diego earned the division title by beating Denver in Week 17. Despite going just 3-7 against non-division squads, a 5-1 record against AFC West teams was enough to send the Chargers to the playoffs. Lower in the division standings, the Raiders placed third at 5-11 and the Chiefs landed in last at 2-14.
There have been three instances since 2002 where a division was so bad that a sub-.500 team earned a home playoff game. The 2010 Seahawks were the first of those three division winners, pulling off the feat in a year where the NFC West combined to go 25-39. The Carolina Panthers won the 2014 NFC South title with a 7-8-1 record and Washington won the 2020 NFC East title with a 7-9 record.
Which division has the most wins since 2002?
AFC East teams have the best combined record of any division dating back to 2002, while the NFC West ranks last out of the eight divisions. The AFC West and NFC East have been two of the most even divisions in that span.
Here is a look how each division has fared over the last 20 regular seasons:
AFC East: 669-615
NFC South: 653-629-2
AFC North: 648-628-8
AFC West: 647-637
NFC East: 636-645-3
NFC North: 630-648-6
AFC South: 621-663
NFC West: 620-659-5