2010 NFL Playoff Theory: How Do You Solve a Problem Like the Seahawks?

Tyler StricklandContributor IIJanuary 4, 2011

Pete Carroll, Head Coach of the Mediocres
Pete Carroll, Head Coach of the MediocresOtto Greule Jr/Getty Images

It could have been alright. One measly win, and the Rams are in. We've seen 8-8 playoff teams before. Sometimes to the chagrin of some 9-,10-, and yes, 11-win teams. And maybe the Seahawks aren't so different from that 8-win sleeper. Honestly, you can chalk up one win a year to bad calls and bad turf.

But for some, myself included, a losing record entering the playoffs represents a chilling omen preceding bad football mojo. Expect the pestilence and rain of frogs soon.

It's been opined on television, talk radio, and the blogosphere alike that the Seahawks are a fluky outlier in an otherwise solid playoff format, and that Seattle is a highly unlikely consequence of division-oriented football. Why throw the baby out with the bathwater?

Less eloquently, some supporters of the current system (many of them here on Bleacher Report) say the football fans crying foul should quit whining. Football is not about fairness, they say. This is the system.

To a degree, they are right. Fanatical worship of the golden calf of equality does not beget entertainment. Frankly, it's in the bad calls and unfairness inherent in competitive sports that give football some of its most thrilling moments.

But where the playoffs are concerned, it seems strange for the NFL to continue to sponsor a divisional system that arbitrarily, and routinely, rewards less accomplished teams at the expense of better clubs whose only mistake was playing in the wrong city.

That may seem hyperbolic, but since the modern divisional era began in 2002, 21 teams have been snubbed who had equal or better records than playoff teams.

Let that sink in. In just nine seasons, 21 teams have played as well or better than the chosen 12. Admittedly, in some cases tie-breakers were correctly used to determine the winner between two divisional rivals.

But in many instances, tie-breakers were not used because the two teams played in separate divisions. If the best team in Division A and the 4th best team in Division B have identical records, then the latter cannot advance, even if they beat the best Division A had.

Worse yet, on four separate occasions, teams have failed to make the playoffs in spite of their better overall record than the weakest divisional winner. About once every two seasons, we can count on a team like the Seahawks throwing a wrench in the works.

The irony is that the current division system makes winning a wild card spot very difficult. With four divisions of four teams, winning a weak division is comparatively easy. You only have to be better than three teams.

For good teams in tough divisions they can't win outright, they are essentially competing with 11 other clubs for a wild card (16 conference teams minus 4 division leaders and themselves). It is for this reason why so often the best wild card team is the 3rd or even 2nd best team in their conference overall.

Why continue this warped system? Why value geography over accomplishment? Why do we need divisions?

With the advent of commercial jetliners (in the middle of last century), there isn't a pressing logistical need to have unbalanced inter-divisional schedules. Foxboro is practically, if not literally, no further away from San Diego than Kansas City. All away teams schedule travel days, no matter where they are going that week.

What about the rivalries, you ask? Believe it or not, the NBA has managed keep a high level of competitiveness and interest, despite rolling out a significantly more balanced schedule than either the NFL or MLB. Everyone plays everyone else at least twice, and the rest of the games are distributed evenly among teams in the same conference.

With all that said, here is my proposed system:

Get rid of divisions and unbalanced schedules altogether. Play everyone in your Conference once, and one out-of-Conference game a year. The top 6 records in each Conference get in, with the top 2 getting a first round bye. You know the rest.

This mathematically eliminates the possibility of an inferior team sneaking in under the skirt of the NFL's wacky playoff formula. In the case of a tie, consider the two teams' head-to-head matchup. In a Paper-Scissors-Rock tie, use Strength of Victory.

The value of this system is that it makes sure the best teams have actually played the best teams. There are no weak divisions to hide in, and no strong divisions to be trapped in. The out-of-conference game drawn is the only imbalance, and can't possibly affect a team's fortunes for the whole season.

Is it a perfect system? No. There is always some unfairness, and whining is at the very core of the human condition. But ideally, this ensures that the chosen 12 have nothing to apologize for, and everyone else will have no excuses.