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The Beasts of the East: Why My Division is Better Than Your Division

The NFC East is the best division in football. Everybody knows it, not everybody likes to admit it.

Every offseason a bunch of articles pop up somewhere about why this or that division may be the best division in the NFL. I read them and yawn. 19 Super Bowl appearances between the four NFC East teams and 11 wins between three of the four speak a pretty clear language.

Okay, so you don't like the Super Bowl argument and ask what has the NFC East done for you lately, like, say, in the last five years?

Well, what about outscoring opponents more than any other division over the last five years? Or sending more teams to the playoffs over the last half decade than any other division. Or having only three teams over a five year span with a losing record.

No other division can match that.

Toughest? Most talented? Best coached? Most successful? Just how good is the NFC East?

Performance by division 2005 - 2009

Over the last 5 years, the Cowboys, Eagles, Giants and Redskins have outscored their opponents by 728 points. Now that may not sound like all that much, but consider that that number is almost twice as high as the 427 point differential put together by the Colts-led AFC South. The AFC South of course also is home to the expansion Texans, who last season quietly celebrated their first ever winning season.

Since 2005 the NFC East has sent 12 teams to the playoffs. Again best in the league and an average of 2.4 playoff-bound teams per year. Each year, the East sent at least two teams to the playoffs, and three teams in the 2006 and 2007 seasons.

Compare that to, say, the NFC West which has sent exactly one team per year to the playoffs for the last five years (Seahawks 05-07, Cardinals 08-09, nothing for the 49ers and Rams). You could argue that the team in the NFC West that managed to lose the least games in a season made the playoffs by default, and in fact only once in the last five years did the NFC West division winner win more than ten games (2005 Seahawks). The NFC North and AFC West one-upped the NFC West by sending one more team to the playoffs in that five year span.

The NFC East racked up a total of 180 wins over the last five years, only 4 wins less than the league leading AFC South.

Equally remarkable is that the Giants, Cowboys and Redskins promoted young quarterbacks into the starting job within the last five years. And the Eagles follow suit this year.

But what is perhaps the most remarkable achievement of the NFC East is the fact that in five years only three teams have had a losing record in the division: the 06 & 09 Redskins and the 05 Eagles. Almost every division has had one or two perpetually bad teams over the last 5 years. Except the NFC East.

Performance by division
2005 - 2009
East North South West East North South West
Points Differential +728 -159 +20 -1,216 250 288 427 -338
Playoff Teams 12 6 7 5 7 8 9 6
Total Wins 180 151 162 129 161 163 184 149
No. of teams with losing record 3 10 7 12 10 8 5 9

As I look at the table above, I can't help but wonder what's going on in the West divisions. I've detailed the NFC West above, but the AFC West with the Chargers, Broncos, Raiders and Chiefs looks like the second worst division in terms of overall performance. Oh, wait, the Raiders and Chiefs! Question answered.

Coaching & Talent

Heading into the 2010 season, the NFC East head coaches have a combined NFL head coaching experience of 51 years, again almost twice the experience of the next best division. And these coaches don't just have the experience, they also have the wins to go with it: Their combined .588 winning percentage is second only to the AFC East's .603 - of course, the AFC East's combined 20 years of head coaching experience is 15 years Belichick and the Patriots and five combined years for the others (2 years for the Bills' Chan Gailey, 2 years for the Dolphins' Tony Sparano and one year for Rex Ryan and the Jets).

Every single NFC East head coach has more than 10 years of experience as an NFL head coach. The Chargers, Titans and Patriots are the only teams with similarly tenured coaches. In the youth versus experience vote, the NFC East's experience gets my ballot - that is, until Jason Garrett takes over in Dallas of course.

In terms of talent, the NFC East again takes the crown among all NFL divisions. 24 Pro Bowlers last year came out of the NFC East, more than any other division.

For the 2010 season, the NFL's pre-determined scheduling formula has the NFC East meeting the AFC South. Fittingly, these two divisions have the toughest strength of schedule (SOS) heading into the season. In fact, of the 9 teams with the toughest SOS, four are NFC East teams and three (Texans, Titans, and Jaguars) play the NFC East. We'll see what that strength of schedule was worth once the dust settles.

Coaching & Talent NFC AFC
East North South West East North South West
Head Coach Tenure (Years) 51 15 15 10 20 16 28 16
Head Coach W/L record 458-321 128-112 132-108 74-79 193-127 135-121 238-200 111-138
Pro Bowlers 2009 24 13 12 11 13 12 18 14
Strength of Schedule 2010 .528 .501 .480 .451 .508 .514 .536 .481

Size does matter after all

A large part of the success of the NFC East can be explained in simple dollars and cents. The NFC East teams are the first, second, fourth and seventh most valuable franchises in the NFL. And that's not because of the amount of Super Bowls won, or - in one particular case - not won, the level of talent, the quality of coaching or anything like that. No, the value of a franchise is largely dependent on its ability to generate revenue.

While the NFL shares television money, league sponsorships and one third of ticket revenues equally among all teams, each franchise retains the sole rights to its so-called ancillary revenue like parking, luxury suites, stadium naming rights and much more. The ability to generate ancillary revenue is largely dependent on the size of the revenue pool available for a franchise to dip into, or to put it simpler: the size of the market.

The NFC East cities are among the largest markets in the U.S., which is particularly important for TV advertising revenue, but also for the ability to drive attendance to games.

And while the salary cap has leveled the playing field somewhat between the 32 teams, the cap's parity effect only really works when every team spends exactly the same amount, and that's not going to happen any time soon.

2009 NFL team valuations 2009 TV households in market area (DMA), ranked by households 2009 NFL total regular season attendance by team
Rank Team Value, $ BLN Rank DMA TV households Rank Team Attendance
1. Cowboys 1.65 1. New York 7,493,530 1. Cowboys 1,307,231
2. Redskins 1.55 2. Los Angeles 5,659,170 2. Giants 1,223,927
3. Patriots 1.36 3. Chicago 3,501,010 3. Redskins 1,205,404
4. Giants 1.18 4. Philadelphia 2,955,190 4. Panthers 1,162,625
5. Jets 1.17 5. Dallas-Ft. Worth 2,544,410 5. Eagles 1,144,895
... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ...
7. Eagles 1.12 9. Washington, DC 2,335,040 ... ... ...

There is one little thing though, where the NFC East has come up fairly empty handed recently: The last decade was historically low in terms of Super Bowls for the NFC East. Two Super Bowl wins in the 70's, three in the 80's, five in the 90's but only one in the 00's. Perhaps this is the year the Cowboys help jump-start the East again.

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