There has been a lot of hand-wringing around the NFL about the fact that a 7-9 team might make the playoffs for the first time.
One thing is for sure: The winner of the NFC Worst (West) will not have a winning record. That was assured when Seattle and St. Louis both dropped to 6-8 last weekend.
Heck, even the Niners could win the division at 7-9.
Lots of NFL observers don’t like that idea. Jon Gruden went so far as to say there’s no way the NFL can let a sub-.500 team into the postseason.
Yo, Jon, dem’s da rules. Division winners advance. Nothing you can do about it. It’s the way it has always been, and it’s the way it should continue to be—unless the NFL decides to do away with divisions.
There’s talk that the league might look at changing the seeding criteria, using records rather than division championships to establish matchups and home-field advantages. But then why have divisions?
There’s just no reason for the NFL to turn into the TSA and institute ridiculous reactionary rules based on one incident. What, you want to pat down every team? Feel ’em up for extra L’s stuffed in their underwear?
Should the NFL change its rules for playoff qualification?
And then what? Change the rules to require X number of wins to make the playoffs?
Sorry, Jon, dem’s da breaks in a division-based league.
Besides, this is a rare case.
A losing team has never made the playoffs in the 16-game era (which began in 1978), and only two .500 teams have won their divisions.
The worst cases came in 1985 and 2008. In 1985, Cleveland won the AFC Central at 8-8 and Denver had to stay home despite an 11-5 record. In 2008, San Diego won the AFC West at 8-8 while New England missed despite an 11-5 record.
Unless Green Bay and/or Tampa Bay win out to finish 10-6, nothing as drastic as that will happen this year.
There’s just really no reason to put up a fuss—even if this year is a repeat of 1985.
Sports are full of inequities. They happen all of the time. Every fall, you hear people bitching about the BCS. And every March, half a dozen college basketball teams complain about being left out of the NCAA tournament.
The NFL owners have discussed expanding the playoffs, but that would just water down the NFL to make it like the NBA and NHL, which allow over half their teams in.
The NFL has used a 12-team playoff setup for 20 years, beginning in 1990 because too many 10-win teams were being left out of the playoffs (see chart at bottom).
Winning teams, usually with nine victories, are still left out every year (see other chart at bottom).
-In 1991, the Eagles and 49ers were both 10-6 but lost out to the Falcons (10-6) and Cowboys (11-5) in the NFC. Meanwhile, the Jets were an AFC wild card at 8-8.
-In 2004, Buffalo, Baltimore and Jacksonville (9-7) did not make it in a tough AFC, but, in the NFC, Minnesota & St. Louis (8-8) did. (The Vikings and Rams both won their wild-card games, by the way).
-In 2006, Denver didn’t make it in the AFC at 9-7, but the Giants made it in the NFC at 8-8.
-In 2008, San Diego (8-8) won the AFC West while New England (11-5) was omitted. Dallas & Tampa (9-7) didn’t make it in the NFC.
These are the vagaries of the division/conference system. Occasionally, the teams with the better records will not get in or will have unfavorable matchups.
Sometimes teams that are considered inferior end up surprising everyone, like the Vikings and Rams did in 2004.
In 2008, Kurt Warner and the Arizona Cardinals won the NFC Worst despite losing four of their last six games, but they made a great playoff run that ended in a last-minute Super Bowl loss.
“You see us, [considered] the worst playoff team ever, and we had a chance to win,” Warner told USA Today last week. “It really doesn’t matter what your record is once you get in.”
Until the NFL gets rid of divisions, a division winner is a playoff team.
So stop the hand-wringing, Gruden.
Winning seasons with no playoffs
In the 16-game era (since 1978, strike seasons not included)
1: Falcons, Ravens, Bills, Bengals, Texans, Jaguars, 49ers, Buccaneers
2: Cardinals, Bears, Lions, Colts, Giants, Chargers
3: Browns, Cowboys, Vikings, Saints, Jets, Raiders
4: Broncos, Dolphins, Packers, Steelers, Redskins
5: Chiefs, Seahawks
10 wins, no playoffs
In the 16-game era (since 1978)
Go Outside The Press Box to see why the Seahawks deserve to make the playoffs, even if they finish 7-9.