The term division winner in football is used to describe teams that win their respective divisions by having a better regular season win-loss record than the other three teams in the division. Teams that win their division often have lots of talented players that help the team win consistently throughout the course of the regular season. Division winners generally win at least 9 games, although there have been division champions with less wins in recent years.
There are two conferences in the NFL, the AFC, and the NFC, with each conference having four divisions that generally group teams sharing the same geographic region together. The teams in each division are outlined below.
|AFC North||Baltimore Ravens||10-6|
|AFC East||New England Patriots||11-5|
|AFC South||Houston Texans||11-5|
|AFC West||Kansas City Chiefs*||12-4|
|NFC North||Chicago Bears||12-4|
|NFC East||Dallas Cowboys||10-6|
|NFC South||New Orleans Saints||13-3|
|NFC West||Los Angeles Rams||13-3|
*Indicates that a tiebreaker was necessary
In order to win a division in football, a team must have a better win-loss record than the three other teams in the division. If there is a tie between teams, then a series of tie breakers are used.
With the title of division winner going to the team with the best record in each division, there is occasionally a need for a tiebreaker. A tiebreaker is required when two teams residing in the same division finish the regular season with the same record. The NFL first defers to each team's record against other teams in the division, with the team with the better record against divisional rivals earning the crown.
For example, if the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals both post 10 wins and 6 losses during the regular season but the Ravens went 4-2 against other AFC North teams while the Bengals went 3-3, the Ravens will be declared AFC North champions. If a further tiebreaker is needed because the two teams in question also have the same record against divisional opponents, the team with a better record against teams in the entire conference becomes the division winner.
The first tie breaker used is head to head record, if the teams are still tied then division win percentage, record against shared opponents, conference win percentage, strength of victory, and strength of schedule are used in that order.
If more than two teams have matching records, the same tie breakers are used until one of the teams is eliminated. Once that team is eliminated the remaining teams go back to the beginning of the order of tie breaks.
Division winners enjoy a set of advantages once they make the playoffs. Among them are having home field advantage and potentially a first round bye. Division winners make up the majority of the NFL playoffs. Below is an image of the 2018 NFL playoff participants, with eight of the twelve being division winners.
Not only does winning the division guarantee making the playoffs, but it also means that the team will play their first playoff game at their home stadium. The third and fourth ranked division winners in each conference play in the first round against wild card teams, at their home stadium. The first and second ranked division winners get a first round bye (see below) as well as home field in the second round. If you would like a refresher on the advantages playing at your home field gives, we have a page titled Football Home Team that explains it further.
Because 6 teams make the playoffs in each conference, the bracket is set up to give two teams the opportunity to not play in the first round. Those two spots are filled by the two highest ranked division winners. They skip the wild card round and go straight to the divisional round where they will have home field advantage.