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Football Division Winners

Football Division Winners

In the NFL, the two conferences (AFC and NFC) are separated into four different divisions each. Each conference has a North, South, East, and West division. After all 17 games have been played, the team in each division with the best overall record is the division winner. Each division winner receives an automatic bid to the playoffs, so securing the division title is imperative.

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What are Division Winners in Football?

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 nine games, although there have been division champions with less wins in recent years.

Divisions

In the NFL, there are eight total divisions that feature groupings of teams in a similar geographic area. These divisions are divided into two conferences in the NFL, the American Football Conference (AFC) and the National Football Conference (NFC). The teams in each division are outlined below.

AFC North

  • Baltimore Ravens
  • Cincinnati Bengals
  • Cleveland Browns
  • Pittsburgh Steelers

AFC East

  • Buffalo Bills
  • Miami Dolphins
  • New England Patriots
  • New York Jets

AFC South

  • Houston Texans
  • Indianapolis Colts
  • Jacksonville Jaguars
  • Tennessee Titans

AFC West

  • Denver Broncos
  • Kansas City Chiefs
  • Las Vegas Raiders
  • Los Angeles Chargers

NFC North

  • Chicago Bears
  • Detroit Lions
  • Green Bay Packers
  • Minnesota Vikings

NFC East

  • Dallas Cowboys
  • New York Giants
  • Philadelphia Eagles
  • Washington Commanders

NFC South

  • Atlanta Falcons
  • Carolina Panthers
  • New Orleans Saints
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFC West

  • Arizona Cardinals
  • Los Angeles Rams
  • San Francisco 49ers
  • Seattle Seahawks

Recent Division Winners

Division2021-22 WinnerRecord
AFC NorthCincinnati Bengals10-7
AFC EastBuffalo Bills11-6
AFC SouthTennessee Titans12-5
AFC WestKansas City Chiefs12-5
NFC NorthGreen Bay Packers13-4
NFC EastDallas Cowboys12-5
NFC SouthTampa Bay Buccaneers13-4
NFC WestLos Angeles Rams12-5

Most NFL Division Titles

Certain teams have risen to the top over the history of the NFL, dominating their division year after year. Below is a table featuring the team with the most division titles in each division.

DivisionTeamDivision Titles
AFC NorthPittsburgh Steelers24
AFC EastNew England Patriots22
AFC SouthIndianapolis Colts9
AFC WestLas Vegas Raiders/Denver  Broncos/Los Angeles Chargers15
NFC NorthMinnesota Vikings20
NFC EastDallas Cowboys24
NFC SouthNew Orleans Saints7
NFC WestSan Francisco 49ers20

How to Win the Division

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 tiebreakers are used.

Division Winner Tiebreakers

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 regular-season head-to-head record. This means whichever team won the two regular-season games against the other will be declared the division winner.

If the teams have the same head-to-head record, their record against divisional opponents will be used to determine the tiebreaker. For example, if the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals both post 10 wins and 7 losses during the regular season, and each won a single game against the other, their divisional records will break the tie. In this case, if 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 common opponents becomes the division winner. Here is a hierarchy of tiebreakers used for NFL division winners:

  1. Head-to-head record between two teams
  2. Individual record within the division
  3. Record in games against teams played by both teams
  4. Individual record within the conference
  5. Strength of victory
  6. Strength of schedule

While there are more determinants to settle a tiebreaker, it is extremely rare for tie-breaking circumstances to progress past those listed here.

Two Teams

The first tiebreaker 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.

Three or Four-Way Tie

If more than two teams have matching records, the same tiebreakers 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 tiebreaks.

Impact on the Playoffs

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 week. Division winners make up the majority of the NFL playoffs.

Home Field Advantage

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 second, third, and fourth-ranked division winners in each conference play in the first round against wild card teams, at their home stadium. The first ranked division winners get a first round bye, as well as home field in all future rounds.

First Round Byes

A total of seven teams make the playoffs in each conference, with the bracket set up to give one team in each conference the opportunity to not play in the first round. Those two spots are filled by the highest-ranked division winner in the AFC and NFC. They skip the wild card round and go straight to the divisional round, where they will have home field advantage.

FAQ

What happens if division leaders tie in the NFL?

If two teams are tied for the best win-loss record in their division, a series of tiebreakers will be used to determine the division champion. First, the teams’ head-to-head records will decide who wins the division. If the teams split their two regular-season games, the next tiebreaker will be their overall divisional record. This means whichever team has won the most games against opponents within their division will win the division's title. If the teams are still tied, the next metrics used as a tiebreaker are, in order: their record against shared opponents, their conference win percentage, their strength of victory, and their strength of schedule.

How does a team clinch a division?

In the NFL, clinching the division means that you have the best record in your division by the end of the season, regardless of how the rest of the regular season plays out. Typically, a team will clinch a division towards the end of the regular season, when there are very few games remaining. For example, if the first place team is 11-5 going into the last week of the season, and the second place team is 9-7, then the first place team has clinched the division. This is due to the fact that the second place team cannot mathematically achieve a better record than the first place team, as there is only one game left and their best possible record will still be short of the first place team.

How many divisions are there in the NFL?

In the NFL, there are eight different divisions that each hold four teams. These eight divisions are split between the two conferences, the AFC and the NFC. These divisions are categorized as the North, South, East, and West in both the AFC and the NFC.

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