How to Fix the NFL's Broken Playoff Structure

Bugeatersteve StuchlikCorrespondent IJanuary 16, 2009

After reading an excellent article written by Kerry J. Byrne for, I got to thinking of how the current playoff structure of the NFL could be fixed, because I don’t believe for a second that we have the best setup available. Here is what I came up with.

Without going into great detail about Kerry’s article, I think everyone who follows the NFL will agree with the fact that when a team has to play a road playoff game with a 12-4 record, while an 8-8 team hosts one, you have a serious problem. This problem can be traced back to the origin of the first four-team division that has been in effect since the 1967 season.

Back in that season, during a 14-game schedule you had a team that finished the season with an 11-1-2 record and failed to make the playoffs. That was the Baltimore Colts, who finished tied for first with the Los Angeles Rams, who got the playoff spot.

When you have a setup where each division has only four teams, you are bound to have situations where a mediocre team can win that division with a less than stellar record, which is what 8-8 is.  By the same token, you can get a scenario where two or even three teams have a good record, but only two of them make the playoffs.

Because this situation seems to happen more and more frequently, you have to wonder whether the NFL suits in charge even care about the problem, and even more so, whether they even feel that the 17-week schedule is worth anything. Here are a few examples of the injustice from the current season.

Exhibit No. 1, the Indianapolis Colts, who finished with an AFC second best overall record (12-4) but had to play a road playoff game against the 8-8 San Diego Chargers.

Exhibit No. 2, the 9-7 Arizona Cardinals, who got to host not one, but two playoff games, both against teams with a better record (Atlanta and Philadelphia).

Third, those same 8-8 San Diego Chargers made the playoffs, while four teams (two within the same conference) with better records (Chicago, Dallas, New England, and the New York Jets) sat at home.

And people want to gripe and complain about the BCS and how unfair it is—come on now. Now I don’t want to appear to have the final, “this is the do all end all” solution, but I think it makes more sense that what is currently taking place.

First off, I want to merge the four four-team divisions into two eight-team divisions, Eastern and Western. Along with this change, I will be adding two additional teams to the playoffs for a total of eight from each conference (AFC and NFC).

Secondly, now before you read this next part, have your wife, girlfriend, or roomy standing by to throw water on you to wake you up.  I am also eliminating the inter-conference games while retaining the 16-game schedule.

By establishing the two eight-team divisions, you will play a home and home schedule with the other seven teams within your division (14 total), plus two games against teams from the other division. This will not only put a greater reward on winning your division, but also a greater importance on the regular schedule.

As you may have already figured out, the top four teams from each division will make the playoffs. By going with this format, I also am eliminating the “bye week.” But of course the first and second place teams in each division will host the first round playoff game, with the first place/seed playing the fourth and the second hosting the third.

Following this logic, if you have a good record you will actually get to host a playoff game.

The winners of the first round games, of course, would meet in the next round, and again the team with the best record would host that game. Once the Eastern and Western divisions are down to a single team, those two would play for the Conference championship with the winner advancing to the Super Bowl.  

All of this sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Well, why shouldn’t it be? The only real negative is that you would no longer have AFC teams playing NFC teams during the regular season. But I believe that the trade-off in having all the truly deserving teams make the playoffs more than justifies that negative.

As far as aligning the teams into their respective divisions, the AFC lines up way easier than the NFC does. If you take the current East and North divisions and combine them into the new Eastern conference, and then the South and West divisions into the Western conference, the AFC only really has Jacksonville as the team that doesn’t geography fit in its newly created division.

In the NFC, it would involve moving the Vikings, Packers, and Cowboys into the West, while moving Carolina, Atlanta, and Tampa Bay into the East to make the NFC more geographically friendly.

Again, I don’t assume for a minute that I have the total solution to the current problem, but only a better format for a long-festering situation.