NFL Parity Rewards Mediocrity

Saints QB Drew Brees

The NFL playoffs get under way with Wildcard Weekend kicking off today, and in addition to the promise of an entertaining game between the Indianapolis Colts and the New York Jets on Saturday, football fans will be subjected to the travesty of watching the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints taking an 11-5 record on the road to play the pathetic 7-9 Seattle Seahawks.

You read that correctly: A team with a losing record is hosting a playoff game against a team with a winning record. This is happening because the Seahawks play in the NFC West, a division that can charitably be called “weak.” But despite the level of competition, just because Seattle won the division it automatically qualifies for a home playoff game. This is embarrassing. You know it, I know it, and the league knows it. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told ProFootballTalk Live that the situation is sparking a review of the seeding process in the coming offseason.

“This is something that we’ll look at again,” Goodell said. “We looked at it a few years ago. The strong view of the clubs was that you should win your division and if you win your division, you should be rewarded with a home game. There is another view that winning your division should automatically get you into the playoffs and into the postseason, but that it should not automatically reward you with a home game. That is something that will continue to be debated. We will look at that this offseason. Let’s let the playoffs play out here a little bit and try to understand what the ramifications are rather than reacting to a specific circumstance.”

In my view, qualifying for the playoffs should be – and is – plenty of incentive for winning your division. Unless you’re suggesting there’s a team out there thinking, “Y’know, let’s dump this game, because winning our division doesn’t guarantee us a home game. There’s not enough incentive.” Bull. The point is qualifying for postseason. There’s no reason for the double reward of a playoff berth and a home game. And no, I am not a disgruntled Saints fan; I’m a disillusioned New York Giants fan, so I don’t have a horse in this race. To be fair, the 11-5 Jets are visiting the 10-6 Colts, but the inequity there is a little smaller. And at least both teams have winning records. That’s something the Seahawks might be forced to look into next season.

To all those people who cry, “If you want a home game, win your division,” well, that’s not always practicable when you’re in a good division. Seattle happens to be lucky enough to play in a garbage division populated by weak teams. The Seahawks only won their division because somebody had to, by default. The NFC South, North and East each had at least two strong teams, and the South only had one team with a losing record (admittedly the league’s worst, the 2-14 Carolina Panthers), while the West had exactly zero teams with a winning record. That’s just embarrassing. Therefore, the whining should be rephrased, “You want a home game? Win a few during the regular season!”

Even better, seeding according to record will end the plague of Week 16 and 17 games in which one team “has nothing to play for.” Now, every week will count, because finishing 12-4 might secure a home game, while an 11-5 record means hitting the road. And perennially bad teams will have more opportunity to play spoiler, by costing strong teams a home game if they slack off. Everybody wins.

Well, except the teams that can’t win!

Oh, yeah? Sez you!

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