If the NFL had realigned differently...
By Stephen L. Carter
Over the years, many Redskins fans have bemoaned the strength of the division in which the team plays, suggesting that, with a different set of opponents, Washington might have notched better records. And although this year’s team is 2-0 so far in divisional play, it is true that in recent years the Skins have lost far more divisional games than they have won. (Washington has won seven divisional games and lost 17 over the past four years.)
When the National Football League realigned in 2002 after adding the Houston Texans, one of the constraints within which it worked was the preservation of certain traditional rivalries. In particular, the league decided to impose three conditions on the reorganization of its divisions: Chicago, Detroit, Green Bay, and Minnesota would remain in a single division; Buffalo, Miami, the New York Jets, and New England would remain in a single division; and Dallas and Washington would remain in a single division.
Without those constraints, who might Washington’s divisional rivals be? This chart, by mathematician John E. Mitchell at Rensselaer Polytehnical Institute, seeks to answer that question – not only for the Skins, but for all NFL teams. Mitchell set out to discover, with the aid of his computer, how the league would look under several realignment variations. Suppose, for example, that the NFL had placed no constraints to preserve tradition, but had simply tried to minimize the net sum of the distances between divisional rivals – that is, the league had set up its divisions entirely by geography. My own off-the-cuff guess would have been that the Redskins’ twice-a-year opponents would comprise Baltimore, Carolina, and Philadelphia, but the computer says I am wrong. According to Mitchell’s analysis, the Redskins’ divisional rivals would be Baltimore, Buffalo, and Pittsburgh. Although it might be fun to have the Bills to push around, the Ravens and Steelers play a tough, battering style of football. Perhaps that would toughen the Skins for their other battles; or perhaps it would wear them down.
Mitchell also ran his program subject to a different constraint – that all teams in the AFC remain in the AFC and all teams in the NFC remain in the NFC. Under that model, Washington’s division would include the Eagles and the Giants, as now, but Dallas would be replaced by Detroit. That single change would of course make the division considerably weaker, as the three “old” NFC East teams would expect a pair of victories over the Lions every year. (Don’t mention last year, please.)
The most interesting of Mitchell’s alignment possibilities preserved all of the league’s realignment constraints but also assigned teams to divisions without regard to the conference to which they previously belonged. Under this model, the Skins wind up in a division with Dallas, New Orleans, and Houston. No walk in the park there, either.
In short, I do not think Redskins fans can fairly blame the bad luck of being in this division for the team’s woes over the past decade. We simply have not been a very good football team most of the time. Maybe if we woke up suddenly in the NFC West – but wait. What exactly happened the last time we matched up with a team from out there? I seem to recall that Washington lost by two touchdowns; or maybe that was all a bad dream.
Box Seats blogger
| October 22, 2010; 11:30 AM ET
Categories: Redskins, Stephen L. Carter | Tags: Redskins, Stephen L. Carter
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