Blog Entry

'Hawks give NFL good reason to fix playoff seeds

Posted on: January 2, 2011 11:53 pm
Edited on: January 2, 2011 11:56 pm
Posted by Will Brinson

First of all, hats off to the Seattle Seahawks for showing up on Sunday night and beating St. Louis. They're 7-9, but they're the NFC West champions and they're going to the playoffs.

No one can take that away from them.

But someone (like, say Roger Goodell) can stop people from being forced to watch a team with a losing record host a home playoff game ever again. And it needs to happen as soon as the final whistle for the Super Bowl blows, because, frankly, it's embarrassing that the Saints will travel to Seattle next week.

I'm actually not staunchly opposed to the idea that if you win your division, you get in the playoffs. Andy and I have argued at length over this during pretty much every podcast since it became apparent someone was going to limp into the playoffs with a terrible record out of the NFC West. And, for me at least, the whole "it's cyclical" explanation works fine.

Every team -- except for the 49ers -- in this putrid division has been in a Super Bowl at least once over the last decade, and San Francisco has more than enough historical success to make up for their recent terrible play.

It's also clear that the Cardinals are a quarterback away from not being horrible, and you could say the same for the Niners. The Rams could dominate the division once they find some actual playmakers who have hands, and the Seahawks, well, heck, they already won their division title.

So let's not go and blow things up and simply take the top-six teams in each conference, because that defeats the entire purpose of having divisions.

But it's absolutely imperative that the NFL determine some manner to re-seed the playoffs beginning in the next season. There's no possible way to say that the Seahawks are better than either the Packers or Saints, and yet New Orleans, who didn't fall short of the No. 1 overall NFC seed, actually has to travel to Seattle on a short week to play in front of a rowdy crowd.

Could the Seahawks win? Sure. It's the NFL and anyone can win. But that doesn't mean that seeding teams in a blatantly inaccurate manner based on an antiquated notion that winning your division equals a home game is the way keep going.

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Since: Jan 2, 2007
Posted on: January 3, 2011 2:59 pm

'Hawks give NFL good reason to fix playoff seeds

"That still does put a winning team in that division this season."

Should have read: "That still does not put a winning team in that division this season."

Since: Jan 3, 2007
Posted on: January 3, 2011 2:57 pm

'Hawks give NFL good reason to fix playoff seeds

"@ Sowell they never played 14 games in the sixties! It was only 12! They went to a 14 game schedule in 1976 then to 16 games around 1980."

This is incorrect. The NFL played a 12 game schedule for the last time in 1960. The league went to a 14 game schedule in 1961. The next schedule expansion was in 1978 when they moved to the current 16 game format.

Take a look for yourself at the following sites:



Since: Jan 2, 2007
Posted on: January 3, 2011 2:53 pm

'Hawks give NFL good reason to fix playoff seeds

melampus1, This is not necessarily true.  It depends on what team would have been added to the NFC West this year if the league had been re-aligned.  Geographically, (assuming that teams stay in their current conferences), you would have had either Dallas or Minnesota.  That still does put a winning team in that division this season.

The current divisional set up is fine, and teams should get rewarded for winning their division - even if they are 7-9.  What the NFL should consider is to re-do the entire playoff ranking.  Six teams should make the playoffs - the four division winners plus two wildcards. So far that is exactly the way things are.  The change is that the six teams should all be ranked based on their record, irrespective of if they are a division winner or a wildcard.  There are years that a wildcard team could be ranked second in the playoffs.  Number 3 hosts number 6, Number 3 hosts no. 4, and Numbers 1 & 2 get a bye.  Everything is based on each team's record.

This year in the NFC Atlanta would have the no. 1 seed (and a bye).  Number 2 would go to either Chicago or New Orleans, (I have not tried to determine who would win a tie-breaker).  Therefore the no. 3 seed would be either Chicago or NO and that team would host no. 6 Seattle.  Philadelphia and Green Bay would play each other and the host would be determined by a tie-breaker.

The best solutions are the simplest ones.  There is no need to analyze geographical and historical rivalries to determine new divisions.  There would be no need to plan a new schedule for the regular season.  You simply take what is already known - the record for the six playoff bound teams, and then slot them accordingly.

Since: Sep 4, 2006
Posted on: January 3, 2011 2:44 pm

'Hawks give NFL good reason to fix playoff seeds

I hate to break it to you but the format "4 Division winners and 2 Wild Card teams from each Conference make the playoffs" isn't all that old in comparison to football itself.

Since: Mar 18, 2009
Posted on: January 3, 2011 2:38 pm

There's No Need To Fix What Isn't Broken

Interesting article, Will.  The rules are as old as football itself - 4 Division winners and 2 Wild Card teams from each Conference make the playoffs.  In my opinion, that's the way it should be, regardless of record.  Do the Seahawks have a right to host a home playoff game because they won their Division?  I believe they do, but they probably won't last very long.  Assigning playoff rankings/seedings is a completely different issue.  Should the Saints be seeded above the Seahawks because of their better record and thus be granted a home playoff game of their own in the Wild Card round against the Seahawks?  No, because they earned a Wild Card berth.  Yes, because they not only finished with a better record, but did so in a much tougher division.  The way it currently exists is good for football.  Eventually, the NFC West will be strong again and the NFC South will be awful, perhaps in 10 - 15 years.  It'll all shake out over time, but that's why we have divisions.  The NFL cannot now start reassigning seeds because of teams' records.  If they are going to do that, we might as well start realigning the divisions with economical views in mind, such as having San Diego, Seattle, San Francisco and Oakland in the same division.  While we're at it, we might as well throw Miami, Jacksonville, Tampa Bay and Atlanta in another division.  My point is, we cannot now start to "fix" things because of an anomaly in one division for one season.

Since: Oct 19, 2007
Posted on: January 3, 2011 2:38 pm

'Hawks give NFL good reason to fix playoff seeds

@ Sowell they never played 14 games in the sixties! It was only 12! They went to a 14 game schedule in 1976 then to 16 games around 1980.

Since: Oct 19, 2007
Posted on: January 3, 2011 2:33 pm

'Hawks give NFL good reason to fix playoff seeds

Go to a three divisions in each conference and three wild cards. Then you would have above .500 teams playing!

Since: Jan 3, 2007
Posted on: January 3, 2011 2:32 pm

'Hawks give NFL good reason to fix playoff seeds

The Seattle Seahawks won the NFC West with a 7-9 record. Not only does this mark the first time in NFL history that a team with a losing record gets to go to the playoffs, but the Seahawks also get the massive advantage of hosting a playoff game. Obviously this isn’t an ideal situation; however given the current set up of the NFL the playoff format is right and proper. In other words, the problem is not the playoff format; the problem is the current setup of the NFL.

The NFL schedule is designed to fairly run the championship season. They’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t in the 91 years that they’ve been running the league. They learned that the rules for determining the champion have to be set in stone before the season begins when they suffered through the Staley Swindle in 1921. They learned that a wild card team is a good idea when the 11-1-2 Baltimore Colts lost the division tiebreaker to the 11-1-2 Los Angeles Rams in 1967, thus missing the playoffs entirely while the 9-4-1 Green Bay Packers, 9-5 Dallas Cowboys, and 9-5 Cleveland Browns all played in the postseason. They’ve learned that four team divisions can produce poor champions, such as the 8-6 Cincinnati Bengals in the inaugural post merger season of 1970, the 8-8 San Diego Chargers in 2008, and the new epitome of dubious championships, the 2010 Seahawks.

However, this schedule beautifully responds to several pressures that the game of football brings to the table. The two biggest of these are:
1) Each team can only play a small number of other teams around the league
2) Home field is a huge advantage

The way the NFL handles these two issues and still has meaningful, comparable records is to break teams into divisions and arrange the schedule so that each team in a given division plays a similar schedule. In order to avoid the problem of home field advantage unduly influencing inter-division games, each team plays a home and home against each divisional rival.

Those two concepts dominate NFL scheduling. Over a third of a given team’s games are in its own division. Each division plays another particular division because of these needs. This makes the comparisons between teams fair not because every team in the NFL plays similar schedules, but because every team that your team is really being compared to – their divisional rivals – all play similar schedules. It may not be fair to judge an AFC North team against an NFC South team because they play vastly different schedules, but it is fair to compare an NFC East team against another NFC East team. The design of the schedule makes certain of that. When we do compare teams in different divisions, it is only because both of those teams have already forfeited their rights to being treated fairly by not winning their division.

The NFL has had poor division champions ever since they started having four-team divisions in 1967. The problem is that the smaller a division is, the higher the chances that they are all bad teams. Four teams seem to be the magic number. All three times that an NFL division has been won by a .500 or worse team, it has been a four-team division. Every division that has five teams or more has been won by a team with a winning record.

That, my friends, is the problem. We now have an NFL with eight four-team divisions. Having divisions that small gives us the chance of crowning a bad division champion. Having that many four-team divisions makes it almost certain to happen with alarming regularity. We’re seeing exactly that. After having one 8-8 division champion in league history through the 2007 season, we’ve had champions at 8-8 and 7-9 in the last three years! What we need to do is get rid of four-team divisions. They’re too small in order to give us reasonable chances that at least one of the teams in the division is good. However, this has its own set of problems.

With 16 teams in each conference, going back down to 3 divisions would mean a 5-5-6 alignment, much like the NFL had in the AFC from 1999 to 2001 before the expansion Houston Texans joined the league. A six-team division means that each team in the division plays 10 divisional games and 6 non-division games. That schedule is far too boring as we learned in those 3 seasons and produces some staggering wild card team records, such as the 13-3 wild card Tennessee Titans in 1999.

The solution to that 10-6 scheduling split problem is simple: Add two games to the schedule. Instead of having merely 6 non-divisional games a season, the teams in the six-team division would have a 10-8 split. That’s reasonable. The other teams in the league would have an 8-10 split, which is also reasonable. The three division champions would probably all be teams worthy of their 1, 2, and 3 seeds. The 4, 5, and 6 seeds would be 3 wild card teams. The top wild card team would even get a home playoff game that their 11 or 12 wins merit.

The NFL playoff system is one of the best playoff systems in all of professional sports. The problem is the current configuration of the league itself, specifically having all four-team divisions. As long as that continues to be the case, we will continue having unworthy division champions. The solution to this problem is not to change the playoff system, but rather to expand to an 18 game schedule and realign the NFL into 2 conferences with 3 divisions each.

Since: Jan 5, 2008
Posted on: January 3, 2011 2:20 pm

'Hawks give NFL good reason to fix playoff seeds

Everyone dogging the NFC WEST is crazy.  In the past 10 years, there have been 4 NFC West teams in the Superbowl (Which was with 3 different teams, STL, AZ, and SEA).  That is tied for the most in the NFL.  The other division that had 4 appearances was the AFC East...which was lead all 4 by 1 team.. The NE Patriots.

I know the NFC West hasn't been that great in the past few years, but in the last 10 years, it was been the most successful conference in the NFL in terms of reaching the Superbowl. 

Since: Jan 3, 2011
Posted on: January 3, 2011 1:36 pm

'Hawks give NFL good reason to fix playoff seeds

Why? A .500 team is just as lousy as a 7-9 team.. They just happened to win one more game. The NFL cant start making 'conditions'.. Eventually, there will be so many it would be like playing bamboozled! If anything, the NFL should look into flipping some teams around. For instance, through the Rams in the East and the Cowboys in the west.

New rules are not the answer

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