In just a few short weeks, we'll have the winner of the NFC East hosting one of the wild-card teams to open up the playoffs. On its face, there's nothing wrong here, as that's been the format for years. This year, however, highlights how this playoff system is broken, to a degree.
As things stand heading into Week 15, both the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles are 6-7 on the year and vying for first place in the NFC East. Whichever team wins that division will host a game on Wild Card Weekend. For a team that will finish with possibly a .500 record, it seems odd rewarding what feels like a division winner by default a home playoff game. For teams like either Seattle (10-3) or San Francisco (11-2) -- one of which will play on Wild Card Weekend -- it feels like one will get a raw deal.
So, how do we fix that? Well, Denver Broncos head coach Vic Fangio believes the NFL could take a page out of the NBA's book and simply rid themselves of divisions altogether, rolling with the six best teams in each conference .
"Since the league went to 32 teams, which was when the Texans came in in 2002, my ideal suggestion -- which has never been put forth in front of anybody important -- I don't think there should be divisions," Fangio told reporters Wednesday during his press conference. "I think you've got 16 [teams] in each conference, everybody should play each other once. That's 15 games. If you want a 16th game, you play a natural rival from the other conference. You know, Jets and Giants play every year. Eagles-Steelers, Texans-Cowboys, etc. play every year and keep it at 16 games.
"You'll avoid the problem which is going to happen this year where probably an 8-8 team is hosting a 12-4 team. You're going to get the six best teams in each conference and the divisions always flow. There are some that are easy some year, there are some that have a bunch of good teams. That switches back and forth every couple years. I just think it'd be a good way to avoid it."
Fangio does make an interesting point here. If this was the way that the NFL handled their playoffs, you'd rid yourself of the mediocre teams in the NFC East and substitute them in the playoff race for the Los Angeles Rams (8-5) and Chicago Bears (7-6), two clubs that have been surging as of late, but have a much tougher road to the postseason because of the divisions they're in.
"I just don't think divisions are going to get you the best six every year," Fangio said of the current system. "You want the best six? Do it like they do in college: You play everybody once."
Of course, you can't ignore the elephant in the room that the NFC East -- specifically the Dallas Cowboys -- brings massive TV ratings whenever they play, so the league won't exactly lose much revenue if Dallas makes it in. In fact, they'll gain ratings because of it. That's not the conversation, however. It's more about getting the best teams in and, under the current format, that's not happening this year.
Unfortunately for Fagnio, it doesn't look like change is around the corner. While speaking to reporters at the NFL owners meeting, commissioner Roger Goodell noted that re-seeding the playoffs hasn't been a subject they've covered.
"This is not the first time this conversation has occurred or this situation's occurred," Goodell said, via NFL.com. "Teams go into the season with the first objective is to win the division. That's what they work on -- we win the division and get into the playoffs. That is something we've considered over the years. I have not heard that this year and I don't anticipate hearing it again. It's been discussed in the past but I don't see that as an issue. If it comes up we'll certainly have a conversation. I don't anticipate it."
Fangio made some logical points and highlighted a key flaw in the current playoff format in the NFL. While he may have suggested a pretty sound substitution, the league seems pretty content where things are at, for better or worse.