Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Alternate History: If the NFL had Promotion & Relegation

The year is 1970. The Kansas City Chiefs have just defeated the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV, evening the score at two wins each for the NFL and the AFL. It's now time for the merger between the two leagues to take place. But instead of the Baltimore Colts, Cleveland Browns, and Pittsburgh Steelers jumping to the new American Football Conference and making one 26 team league, the owners instead decide to take a cue from European soccer and institute pro/rel in a major American sport for the first time.

It's decided that the 10 AFL teams will be joined by the three worst NFL teams from 1969: the Chicago Bears, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Saint Louis Cardinals. Together, they would from a second division, the NFL-2. Meanwhile, the playoffs and Super Bowl would continue to settle the NFL league champion, but now there was drama at the bottom of the standings as well. Thus, a new era began for professional football.

How did everything turn out? Many, many details after the jump.



RULES

Three teams were promoted and relegated in each season, using the real life win-loss records. There was an exception for most of the expansion years (1976, 1995, 1999): in the year before, only two teams were relegated to keep the leagues equal. All expansion teams would automatically enter in the second division, with the exception of Baltimore (though it turned out not to matter).

In 1999 when Cleveland joined, this meant that the leagues were uneven (16-15). Therefore, in 2002 when Houston joined, there was no need to relegate fewer teams.

Each year has the same number of playoff teams as one conference did in real life. So that's four from 1970-77, five from 1978-89, and six from 1990-present. The playoff teams would be determined by the top teams based on the overall records (not on who actually qualified).

The Super Bowl winner and runner up were then determined by looking at the qualified playoff teams, then taking the top two which advanced furthest in the real life playoffs (then using the season records if still tied). I didn't go to the trouble of actually seeding teams for every year, since it's not like the records would be exactly the same anyway.

Tiebreakers were broken by head-to-head record, followed by point differential.


SUPER BOWL CHANGES

As it turns out, only 6/41 had different winners than in real life using this system. However, an additional 18 runners up were different than in real life.

Here's the list, with champions first. Differences from real life are in red text.

1966 1 Green Bay vs Kansas City
1967 2 Green Bay vs Oakland
1968 3 NY Jets vs BAL Colts
1969 4 Kansas City vs Minnesota





1970 5 BAL Colts vs San Francisco
1971 6 Dallas vs Miami
1972 7 Miami vs Washington
1973 8 Miami vs Minnesota
1974 9 Pittsburgh vs Oakland
1975 10 Pittsburgh vs LA Rams
1976 11 Oakland vs Minnesota
1977 12 Dallas vs Denver
1978 13 Pittsburgh vs Dallas
1979 14 Pittsburgh vs Houston
1980 15 Oakland vs Philadelphia
1981 16 Dallas vs San Diego
1982 17 Miami vs Dallas
1983 18 LA Raiders vs Washington
1984 19 San Francisco vs Miami
1985 20 Chicago vs New England
1986 21 NY Giants vs Denver
1987 22 Washington vs Denver
1988 23 San Francisco vs Chicago
1989 24 San Francisco vs LA Rams
1990 25 NY Giants vs Buffalo
1991 26 Washington vs Buffalo
1992 27 Dallas vs Buffalo
1993 28 Dallas vs Buffalo
1994 29 San Francisco vs San Diego
1995 30 Dallas vs Pittsburgh
1996 31 Green Bay vs San Francisco
1997 32 Denver vs Green Bay
1998 33 Denver vs Minnesota
1999 34 Jacksonville vs Tampa Bay
2000 35 NY Giants vs Minnesota
2001 36 Saint Louis vs Pittsburgh
2002 37 Tampa Bay vs Oakland
2003 38 New England vs Indianapolis
2004 39 New England vs Philadelphia
2005 40 Pittsburgh vs Denver
2006 41 Indianapolis vs New England
2007 42 New England vs San Diego
2008 43 Pittsburgh vs Baltimore
2009 44 New Orleans vs Indianapolis
2010 45 Green Bay vs Pittsburgh

Here's why the teams who made it in real life didn't here:

1) Didn't qualify for the playoffs:

1970 - Dallas
1974 - Minnesota
1975 - Dallas
1979 - Los Angeles Rams (actually relegated during this season, tough year)
2007 - New York Giants

2) In second division at the time:

1981 - Cincinnati
1981 - San Francisco
1982 - Washington
1988 - Cincinnati
1989 - Denver
1996 - New England
1998 - Atlanta
1999 - Saint Louis
1999 - Tennessee
2000 - Baltimore
2001 - New England
2003 - Carolina
2005 - Seattle
2006 - Chicago
2008 - Arizona

Overall, no team gained or lost more than one title. Baltimore lost its only win, while Jacksonville is the only non-winner that became one. Cincinnati lost both of their appearances, while San Diego gained two.


YEARS IN EACH DIVISON

Which teams spent the most years in the first or second divisions? Ranked by the percentage of time in the first division. 2011 season is included, though it hasn't taken place yet.



PCT 1st 2nd Playoffs
1 Miami Dolphins 76.19% 32 10 14
1 Pittsburgh Steelers 76.19% 32 10 16
3 Denver Broncos 73.81% 31 11 9
4 Dallas Cowboys 71.43% 30 12 18
5 Baltimore Ravens 68.75% 11 5 4
6 New England Patriots 66.67% 28 14 10
7 Minnesota Vikings 64.29% 27 15 11
8 Philadelphia Eagles 61.90% 26 16 12
8 San Francisco 49ers 61.90% 26 16 15
10 Oakland Raiders 59.52% 25 17 12
10 Saint Louis Rams 59.52% 25 17 7
12 Indianapolis Colts 54.76% 23 19 10
12 New York Giants 54.76% 23 19 6
14 Carolina Panthers 52.94% 9 8 2
15 Buffalo Bills 52.38% 22 20 7
16 Green Bay Packers 50.00% 21 21 9
16 Washington Redskins 50.00% 21 21 8
18 Tennessee Titans 47.62% 20 22 7
19 Jacksonville Jaguars 47.06% 8 9 3
20 Cleveland Browns 46.15% 18 21 3
21 Kansas City Chiefs 45.24% 19 23 7
22 San Diego Chargers 42.86% 18 24 7
23 Chicago Bears 40.48% 17 25 4
23 New York Jets 40.48% 17 25 3
25 Atlanta Falcons 35.71% 15 27 1
25 Cincinnati Bengals 35.71% 15 27 1
27 New Orleans Saints 30.95% 13 29 4
28 Seattle Seahawks 30.56% 11 25 2
29 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27.78% 10 26 4
30 Detroit Lions 26.19% 11 31 2
31 Arizona Cardinals 19.05% 8 34 0
32 Houston Texans 0.00% 0 10 0

Yes, that's a total of zero playoff appearances for the Cardinals.

I didn't increase the number of playoff spots for the strike-shortened 1982 season (which happened in real life).


MOST CONSECUTIVE YEARS IN D1/D2

The longest lengths of time spent in division one (bold means a current streak):


Years First Last
Pittsburgh Steelers 19 1993 2011
San Francisco 49ers 18 1982 1999
Dallas Cowboys 17 1970 1986
Oakland Raiders 17 1971 1987
Denver Broncos 14 1997 2010
Miami Dolphins 14 1991 2004
Buffalo Bills 13 1989 2001
Minnesota Vikings 13 1989 2001
Pittsburgh Steelers 13 1973 1985
Baltimore Ravens 11 2001 2011
Miami Dolphins 11 1978 1988
Philadelphia Eagles 11 2001 2011
Washington Redskins 11 1970 1980
Kansas City Chiefs 10 1991 2000
Minnesota Vikings 10 1970 1979
New England Patriots 10 2002 2011

The longest lengths of time spent in division two:


Years First Last
Arizona Cardinals 20 1979 1998
Cincinnati Bengals 18 1992 2009
Washington Redskins 18 1994 2011
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 17 1981 1997
Detroit Lions 15 1997 2011
New York Giants 14 1972 1985
Seattle Seahawks 14 1992 2005
New Orleans Saints 13 1994 2006
Atlanta Falcons 12 1984 1995
Green Bay Packers 12 1974 1985
Kansas City Chiefs 12 1975 1986
New York Jets 12 1970 1981
Arizona Cardinals 10 2000 2009
Houston Texans
10
2002
2011


2011 DIVISION ALIGNMENTS

Here's how two divisions would look for 2011. The number represents the current consecutive number of years in the division.

NFL-1

Arizona 2
Atlanta 3
Baltimore 11
Chicago 1
Dallas 4
Green Bay 4
Indianapolis 9
Kansas City 1
Minnesota 2
New England 10
New Orleans 5
NY Giants 6
NY Jets 1
Philadelphia 11
Pittsburgh 19
San Diego 7

NFL-2

Buffalo 5
Carolina 1
Cincinnati 1
Cleveland 3
Denver 1
Detroit 15
Houston 10
Jacksonville 3
Miami 2
Oakland 8
San Francisco 7
Seattle 3
St. Louis 4
Tampa Bay 5
Tennessee 2
Washington 18

As you can see, in 2010 the promoted teams were Chicago, KC, and the Jets. Relegated were Carolina, Cincinnati, and Denver. The playoff teams were ATL-BAL-GB-NE-NO-PIT.


YEAR BY YEAR CHART

Orange = promoted
Blue = relegated
Green = playoffs

The number above the year is the number of playoff teams.



I know that teams from each conference play 75% of the games against one another, which makes it hard for this to work completely. But I still thought it was interesting to look at. Feel free to post or email any questions or comments.

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