By JERRY TAPP
Back in 2002, the NFL adopted a structure whereby there were four four-team divisions in each conference (AFC and NFC). The playoff format established that same year was the four division winners in each conference and two Wild Card teams in each conference would advance to the 12-team NFL playoffs. Tnhat system has been in place every year since.
Going back to 2002, there has been six times when three teams from one division made it to the playoffs in the same season. The last time was in 2014 when three teams from the AFC North (Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Baltimore) each made the playoffs that campaign.
This year, three teams from the NFC South are hoping to repeat what last happened in ‘14. The New Orleans Saints (9-4), Carolina Panthers (9-4) and the Atlanta Falcons (8-5), each from the NFC South, could all make the playoffs this season. At this point, the Saints hold the NFC South lead, the Panthers have the first Wild Card, and although they are tied with Seattle at 8-5, the Falcons currently have the tie-breaker in the second Wild Card spot.
Here are the six times when three teams from one division made the playoffs since 2002.
2006: NFC East (Philadelphia, Dallas, N.Y. Giants)
2007: NFC East (Dallas, N.Y. Giants, Washington)
2007: AFC South (Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Tennessee)
2011: AFC North (Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati)
2013: AFC West (Denver, Kansas City, San Diego)
2014: Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Baltimore)
Only one of the above teams went on to win the Super Bowl … the 2007 Giants. The 2013 Broncos also made it to the Super Bowl, but lost. Fifteen of the above 18 teams either lost in a Wild Card game or in a division playoff game. The 2011 Ravens were the only other team to make it to a conference championship game in that season.