Data Points: Sweeping success

With the 2011 NFL schedule release almost upon us, it should be interesting to see which teams will have the toughest road to Super Bowl XLVI. But while checking the home/away schedule and the non-division opponents gives us insight as to how difficult our favorite team’s path will be, sometimes the most overlooked facet of the NFL schedule is the obvious one: Divisional games.

Taking care of business within one’s division is often a great precursor to success. In fact, teams that have been able to sweep their division have done much more than just make the playoffs. Since the league went to its current eight-division, four-team format in 2002, the numbers are staggering. Six of the 11 clubs that went undefeated in their division made it all the way to the Super Bowl. This list includes the 2009 Colts, 2008 Cardinals, 2008 Steelers (who won it all), 2007 Patriots, 2005 Seahawks, and 2004 Eagles.

While not all of the teams made it to Super Sunday, only one failed to make the playoffs: last season’s Tom Cable-led Raiders. In fact, Oakland is the only team since the 1970 merger to sweep its division and not make the playoffs.

— Elliot Harrison

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