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Super Bowl Teams and Division Domination

Posted by Jason Lisk on November 6, 2007

This season, the Indianapolis Colts have already won all three games on the road against their divisional opponents. Last year, the Colts lost at Houston, Jacksonville and Tennessee. This, of course, did not prevent the Colts from finishing 12-4, discovering a new defense in the playoffs, and winning the Super Bowl.

Ah-ha! You say. If a Super Bowl team, like the Colts last year, is going to lose, it is most likely going to be to a divisional opponent—a team that knows them inside and out.

As it turns out, this year's Colts already have more of a pedigree in line with prior Super Bowl teams than last year's team. The 2006 Colts were not only an aberration because they won a Super Bowl while finishing 32nd in total rushing yards and yards per carry in the regular season. Here are some facts regarding the Colts versus other Super Bowl and Conference Championship teams, and their performance against division opponents:

--The 2006 Colts were the first team to even appear in a Super Bowl since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 who had a non-winning record against division opponents. Even the 1979 Los Angeles Rams, the team with the worst record to appear in a Superbowl (9-7), were 5-1 in division play.

--The only other Super Bowl champion to have three division losses was 1995 Dallas, who was swept by Washington and went 5-3 in the NFC East.

--24 of 37 Super Bowl winners won at least 80% of their divisional games.

--Only four teams who lost a Super Bowl had three divisional losses: 1992 Buffalo, 1986 Denver, 1971 Miami, and 1970 Dallas.

--If we expand it to Conference Championship Game participants, the last team, prior to the 2006 Colts, to even advance to a Championship Game in the same season it lost at least half of its division games was 1989 Cleveland (3-3). Others on this short list include 1987 Minnesota (3-5; but 3 losses were by replacement players), 1985 Los Angeles Rams (3-3), 1984 Pittsburgh (3-3), 1982 New York Jets (2-2 in strike-shortened season), and 1971 San Fransisco (2-4).

Here is the breakdown of winning percentage in divisional, inter-conference, and intra-conference games, by Super Bowl Winners, Super Bowl Runners Up, and Conference Championship Game Teams, since 1970:

Category     Divisional		Inter-Conference	Intra-Conference
SB Winners      222-45-1 (0.830)     133-34-1 (0.795)     104-28-0 (0.788)
SB Runners Up   222-52-0 (0.810)     112-44-2 (0.715)     96-39-1 (0.710)
Champ Game      379-133-4 (0.733)    245-102-2 (0.705)    188-83-0 (0.694)

Not only was the 2006 Colts performance against their division out of line with past Super Bowl teams, their road performance was as well. The 2006 Colts were the first team to appear in a Super Bowl who failed to win a road game against a division opponent. The only other Super Bowl winner to even have a losing record in divisional road games was 1979 Pittsburgh (1-2 on the road). 1988 Cincinnati (1-2) was the only Super Bowl loser to have a losing record in divisional road games. 15 of the 37 Super Bowl Winners (40.5%), and 13 of 37 Runners Up (35.1%), won all of their divisional road games.

Extending it out to all road games, the 2006 Colts (4-4 on the road) joined the 1997 Denver Broncos, and the aforementioned 1979 Pittsburgh Steelers, as the only Super Bowl Champions with a non-winning road record. 29 of the 37 Super Bowl Winners won at least 75% of their road games.

Here are the home/road splits for all teams appearing in the Super Bowl since 1970:

Category     Divisional		Inter-Conference	Intra-Conference
HOME        234-36-1 (0.865)     137-23-1 (0.854)     107-27-0 (0.799)	
ROAD        210-61-0 (0.775)     108-55-0 (0.663)      93-40-0 (0.699)

It goes without saying that Super Bowl teams dominate pretty much everyone on their schedule. They just dominate their division a little more.