NFL Playoffs: Should the NFL Change Its Postseason Format?
The goal of the playoff format is to put the twelve teams that most deserve an opportunity to play for a championship into the playoffs.
As it stands, the winners of the four divisions in each conference obtain the top four seeds in the playoffs. The two division winners with the best records get bye weeks, and the other two host opening round playoff games.
The problem with this format is that some divisions are significantly weaker than others, making a playoff berth easier to obtain for teams in those divisions.
This year's NFC West is the perfect example of that. The 7-8 St Louis Rams and the 6-9 Seattle Seahawks play each other this Sunday. The winner of that game will be at best 8-8 and will host a playoff game.
At the same time, the Green Bay Packers, New York Giants, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are each 9-6, and two of them will miss the playoffs.
In 2008, the 8-8 San Diego Chargers were given a home playoff game while the 11-5 New England Patriots missed the playoffs.
How is that even remotely fair? The Seahawks can make the playoffs by winning their final game while teams that have won two or three more games than they have will be eliminated.
The 2008 Patriots missed the playoffs in favor of a team that had won three fewer games.
What playoff format should the NFL use?
How have the Seahawks or the Rams demonstrated that they belong in the playoffs more than the Packers, Giants, or the Bucs?
They haven't, and that is the problem.
The defense of the current format is that by giving every division winner a home playoff game, there is extra incentive for teams to win their division, making the rivalry games within the division more meaningful.
However, it is important to remember that division games are already meaningful. Games against division opponents are 38 percent of a team's schedule, and no team wants to play a division rival on the road in a playoff game.
Also, NFL teams shouldn't need any more incentive to win games. Every team wants to win enough games to make the playoffs. That's fairly obvious, and the incentives to win games are already high enough.
In baseball, there are 162 games. In basketball, there are 82. In football, there are only 16, which makes every single game important regardless of opponent.
Another defense of the current format is that a team like the 2008 Arizona Cardinals nearly won the Super Bowl despite being a winner of a weak division.
I'm not even trying to argue that an NFC West team couldn't go on a run and win the Super Bowl. What I am trying to argue is that a team that plays in a more difficult division and wins more games has earned the opportunity to play in the playoffs more than a team that finished 8-8 or worse and wins the NFC West.
It's simple: the six teams that have won the most games deserve the six playoff spots in the conference, regardless of which division they play in.
The incentive in a system like this isn't to win the division, it is to win as many games as you can. What's wrong with just having that incentive?
How could a new system work?
The format of the tournament wouldn't change at all. The only thing that would change is which teams make it in and in which order they are seeded.
The two teams with the best record get the number one and number two seeds and the two first round byes, even if they play in the same division.
After that, the next four teams with the best records would be seeded three through six with the three and four seeds being given home games.
Doing so would make winning a division less significant, but it would put the six best teams from each conference in the playoffs.
The end goal of any playoff system is to put the teams that are most deserving of a championship in the playoffs to give them the opportunity to play for the championship.
A team that is 7-9 or 8-8 does not deserve that opportunity more than a team that is 10-6.
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