How Much of an Accomplishment Is a Division Title in the NFL?

Aaron LiebmanAnalyst IDecember 11, 2008

This past weekend, we saw three teams clinch division titles. The Titans got their first division since 2002. The Cardinals did the same for the first time since, well, the days of disco and afros.

Another clincher was the New York Giants, who did so even though they were embarrassed at home. After the stadium emptied, maintenance broke out hats that displayed "New York Giants 2008 NFC East Champions."

Not to take too much away from division winners, but in this day and age in the NFL, is that really something worthy of being printed on a hat? With realignment in 2002, there are only four teams in each division, meaning you only have to finish higher than three other teams.

Not only that, but with only six divisional games instead of the old eight, there is not much opportunity to knock off one another.

In fact, in the old AFC Central, there were six teams in the division, making a title that much more difficult, thus special. But even during that time, two wild-card teams, the 1999 Tennessee Titans, and 2000 Baltimore Ravens, defeated the winner of that division in the playoffs on the way to advancing to the Super Bowl.

But besides the mathematical differences, there have also been different types of results. Two of the last three Super Bowl winners didn't even clinch their divisions. And the one that did it last year, the before mentioned Giants, could be celebrating too soon.

Sure, they got the division, but no matter how well they finish the regular season, if they don't win the Super Bowl, they are automatically worse than last year.

Now, for a team like the Cardinals, celebrating a playoff spot, much less a division title, is something to celebrate. But would they have gotten it if they were still in the NFC East? Highly unlikely.

Soon, we could be seeing other playoff strangers clinch divisions such as Denver, Minnesota, Atlanta, Carolina, and maybe even gasp...the Miami Dolphins. For those teams, it would be a special first step to NFL prosperity. But who's to say they won't get defeated at home in the playoffs by a wild card team?