What was once unheard of in the NFL has become commonplace: Teams with mediocre regular-season records qualifying for the playoffs by winning their division. Four of the past five postseasons have included a club with eight-or-fewer victories. The trend could very well continue for the 2015 campaign with Indianapolis (3-4) leading the dreadful AFC South. FOX Sports Senior NFL Writer Alex Marvez ranks the 10 worst divisions since the league adopted a 16-game schedule in 1978.
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
10: 2004 NFC WEST
Winner: Seattle (9-7) The rest: St. Louis (8-8), Arizona (6-10), San Francisco (2-14) How bad was it? San Francisco’s only two victories came against Arizona, which split division matchups against the Seahawks and Rams. Silver lining: The NFC was such a weak conference in 2004 that the Rams and Minnesota qualified for wild-card berths at 8-8. Playoff result: The Rams were the epitome of average but they played like champs against Seattle. A 27-20 first-round road win over the Seahawks capped a three-game series sweep during the 2004 campaign.
Getty ImagesOtto Greule Jr
9: 2006 NFC WEST
Winner: Seattle (9-7) The rest: St. Louis (8-8), San Francisco (7-9), Arizona (5-11) How bad was it? The Seahawks lost three straight December games but still had the division title wrapped up before Week 17. Silver lining: Seattle avoided becoming the seventh straight team not to reach the playoffs following a Super Bowl loss the previous year. Playoff result: Dallas QB Tony Romo’s inability to handle the snap while holding for what would have been a 19-yard Martin Gramatica field-goal attempt with 1:19 remaining helped Seattle hold on for a 21-20 first-round win. The Seahawks weren’t as lucky the following week as Chicago’s Robbie Gould hit a 49-yard field goal in OT to give the Bears a 27-24 home victory.
Getty ImagesJoe Robbins
8: 2008 NFC WEST
Winner: Arizona (9-7) The rest: San Francisco (7-9), Seattle (4-12), St. Louis (2-14) How bad was it? The Cardinals lost four of their final six games, but still clinched their first division title in 33 years when routing St. Louis in Week 14. Silver lining: Nobody remembers how poorly Arizona ended its regular season or its No. 32 ranking in rushing offense. Kurt Warner also reinvented himself as a Super Bowl QB after an extended slump following two previous appearances with St. Louis. Playoff result: The Cardinals took flight at the right time, winning three playoff games to earn the franchise’s first Super Bowl trip and become the second 9-7 team to ever qualify. Arizona fell just short of winning when Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger hit Santonio Holmes on a six-yard TD pass with 35 seconds remaining.
Getty ImagesDrew Hallowell
7: 2013 NFC NORTH
Winner: Green Bay (8-7-1) The rest: Chicago (8-8), Detroit (7-9), Minnesota (5-10-1) How bad was it? The Packers went 2-5-1 with Aaron Rodgers out because of a fractured collarbone, but the Bears, Lions nor Vikings could pull away. Chicago’s failing was punctuated by Rodgers throwing a 48-yard, fourth-down TD pass to Randall Cobb in the final minute of a Week 17 Packers victory that clinched the division for Green Bay and knocked the Bears from playoff contention. Silver lining: The Packers were 5-2 before Rodgers was injured in Week 9 against Chicago. Playoff result: Green Bay lost at home to San Francisco for the second time that season with 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick leading the game-winning drive in a 23-20 first-round win.
Getty ImagesWesley Hitt
6: 2011 AFC WEST
Winner: Denver (8-8) The rest: San Diego (8-8), Oakland (8-8), Kansas City (7-9) How bad was it? The Broncos lost their final three games by an 88-40 margin but still won the division. The Raiders and Chiefs both fired their head coaches and San Diego made a switch after the 2012 campaign. Silver lining: Tim Tebow provided some of the season’s most memorable moments when replacing Kyle Orton as Denver’s QB. Tebow led six game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or OT. Playoff result: Tebow’s magic extended into the playoffs when he connected with WR Demaryius Thomas on an 80-yard touchdown pass in OT to defeat Pittsburgh. The Broncos were routed the following week against New England in Tebow’s final game with Denver before he was traded to the New York Jets.
Getty ImagesDoug Pensinger
5: 2008 AFC WEST
Winner: San Diego (8-8) The rest: Denver (8-8), Oakland (5-11), Kansas City (2-14) How bad was it? The Chargers, Broncos, Raiders and Chiefs were a combined 11-29 in games outside the AFC West. That .275 winning percentage is the worst in league history for non-division outcomes. Silver lining: Unlike the Broncos, San Diego didn’t collapse down the stretch. After suffering seven of eight losses by seven points or fewer, the Chargers rallied to win their final four games as Denver lost its last three, including a 52-21 Week 17 thumping at San Diego that marked Mike Shanahan’s final game as Broncos head coach. Playoff result: For the second straight year, the Chargers sent Indianapolis packing with a postseason victory before being eliminated with a second-round loss at Pittsburgh.
Getty ImagesJeff Gross
4: 2015 AFC SOUTH*
*Current leader: Indianapolis (3-4) The rest: Houston (2-5), Jacksonville (2-5), Tennessee (1-5) How bad is it? As first referenced by the Indianapolis Star, no club since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 has led its division with such a poor record seven weeks into the season. Silver lining: The Colts have finished the season strong in the past three years under head coach Chuck Pagano and 2012 interim Bruce Arians with an 11-4 combined record in Weeks 13-17. Outlook: Indianapolis has a 3-0 division record with wins over the Texans, Jaguars and Titans, which could go a long way in determining whether the Colts win their fourth straight AFC South title. Indianapolis, though, faces a non-division schedule against six foes with a combined 27-11 record entering Week 8.
Getty ImagesAndy Lyons
3: 2014 NFC SOUTH
Winner: Carolina (7-8-1) The rest: New Orleans (7-9), Atlanta (6-10), Tampa Bay (2-14) How bad was it? The Panthers went 62 days between victories and the Saints, Falcons and Buccaneers still couldn’t make hay in the division race. Silver lining: Panthers players displayed resiliency by sticking together through their winless streak and were 4-0 in December, becoming the first repeat NFC South champs since NFL realignment in 2002. Playoff result: The Panthers posted their first playoff win under head coach Ron Rivera by beating an Cardinals squad forced to play its third-string QB because of injuries. In the second round, Carolina trailed by seven points entering the fourth quarter at Seattle before fading down the stretch in a 31-17 loss.
Getty ImagesGrant Halverson
2: 1985 AFC CENTRAL
Winner: Cleveland (8-8) The rest: Cincinnati (7-9), Pittsburgh (7-9), Houston Oilers (5-11) How bad was it? The Browns became the first club ever in a non-strike year to qualify for the postseason without a winning record. Cleveland even received a first-round bye for winning its division under the old playoff system. Silver lining: Kevin Mack and Earnest Byner became the third duo in NFL history to rush for 1,000-plus yards on the same team in the same season. Playoff result: Browns QB Bernie Kosar, who had led the University of Miami to a national title two seasons earlier, almost worked his magic in the Orange Bowl again by helping stake Cleveland to a 21-3 lead over Miami. The Dolphins, though, rallied behind two Ron Davenport TD runs and a Dan Marino scoring pass for a 24-21 victory.
Getty ImagesGeorge Gojkovich
1: 2010 NFC WEST
Winner: Seattle (7-9) The rest: St. Louis (7-9), San Francisco (6-10), Arizona (5-11) How bad was it? The 2010 Seahawks became the first team to qualify for the playoffs with a losing record with opponents outscoring Seattle by a 97-point margin during the regular season. The Seahawks were 2-7 between Weeks 9 and 16 before beating St. Louis in the season-finale to win the division. Silver lining: Head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider began laying the groundwork for a team that would win the Super Bowl three seasons later. Playoff result: The Seahawks stunned New Orleans in the first round with a 41-36 upset remembered most for the 'Beast Quake' -- a 67-yard TD run by Marshawn Lynch that draw a loud-enough crowd reaction to register on a seismograph. Seattle fell the following week at Chicago.