Seahawks-Saints Injustice Points Out Need For NFL To Do Away With Divisions
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Many pundits are saying that the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks knocking off the 11-5 Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints is one of the most shocking upsets in NFL playoff history.
This wasn't a shocking upset; the real story that many have missed is the injustice of the Seahawks being allowed to host this playoff game.
The Saints had the much better regular season record in a much better division this year, and this game should have been in the Superdome. Even the NBA league office recognizes that the team with the better record should have home court advantage in the playoffs.
The 12th man is a gigantic advantage for Seattle. The crowd there probably gives the Seahawks a bigger advantage than any other home crowd does its NFL team.
Inside Qwest Field, the noise level has been measured as high as 137 decibels, believed to be louder than any other football stadium. Since 2005, opponents at Qwest have committed more than 100 false-start penalties, more than at any other stadium.
This year, Seattle is 6-3 at home and only 2-6 on the road. And look at Seattle's all-time playoff record: The Seahawks are 7-2 in playoff games at home and 1-7 on the road.
Meanwhile, the Saints were only 5-3 at home this year and 6-3 on the road. In their playoff history, the Saints are 4-3 at home and 0-4 on the road. Being on the road in the postseason is a big disadvantage for the Saints, about as large as the advantage Seattle has of hosting a playoff game.
Should winners of divisions in the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL automatically go to the playoffs at the expense of teams with better records?
The Seahawks should not have even made the NFL playoffs; the New York Giants and Tampa Bay Bucs both sported 10-6 records and were left out of the postseason.
That's not the first time this has happened. In 2008, the New England Patriots sat home at 11-5, while the San Diego Chargers made the NFL playoffs at 8-8.
The same thing has happened in other professional sports leagues. Baseball has the most examples: In 2009, the Minnesota Twins made the MLB American League playoffs with a worse record than the Texas Rangers, who sat home; in 2008, the Los Angeles Dodgers made the playoffs despite a whopping four teams that did not qualify in the National League having better records than the Dodgers.
The NBA and NHL generally have avoided this embarrassment in recent years by sending so many teams to the playoffs that they might as well just skip the regular season.
While only four MLB teams make the postseason from each league and six NFL teams from each conference, pro basketball and hockey send eight teams apiece from each conference.
That's why you had the Atlanta Hawks making the NBA playoffs in 2008 with a .451 record, as well as the Toronto Maple Leafs making the playoffs with a .300 record in 1988; way back in 1953, the Baltimore Bullets even made the playoffs with a .229 record.
That's right, the Bullets only won 16 out of 70 games that year and were rewarded with a playoff berth.
Baseball does the best job in making sure only teams that deserve it are in the playoffs, as no losing team has ever made the MLB playoffs. The San Diego Padres made it in 2005 with an 82-80 [.506] record, which is the worst so far.
But then, there is the problem in baseball that so many more deserving teams miss the playoffs when division winners automatically make it.
So, what should the bigwigs of the four major pro sports leagues do about this? Do away with divisions, or at least stop giving division winners automatic playoff berths.
It also makes more sense to have teams play roughly the same opponents, so one team like the Seahawks doesn't benefit by playing numerous games against more inferior teams than the Saints.
I realize that would mess up the NFL's attempts to give teams with worse records easier schedules the following year. But what leagues except professional ones try to do that?
My son's Little League baseball team and basketball squad don't play that way. They play every team in their league, same as everyone else.
In the NFL, each team can play the other 15 teams in the conference. That leaves one team to play in the opposing conference, or three if the NFL decides to expand the season to 18 games. The NBA, NHL and MLB—which have many more games in the regular season than the NFL—can divide up games more evenly so each team plays other teams about the same number of times.
In addition, the NHL and NBA should reduce the number of playoff teams from each conference to six to help keep teams with losing records from qualifying.
This is not rocket science. These are relatively simple steps to make sure the best teams during the regular season have an opportunity to play for the title.
Shouldn't that be mandatory in professional sports leagues? It hasn't been when the Seahawks are in the NFL playoffs and the Giants or Bucs are not.
Sure, some will wring their hands about the erosion of divisional rivalries under such a plan. But I think it will lead to more interesting rivalries and playoff scenarios.
Until some substantial changes are made, we will continue to see more injustices like the worst playoff team in NFL history actually hosting a postseason game.
And one day, not even the 12th man will be cheering.
Shay has written articles and columns on sports, business and politics for The Dallas Morning News, Washington Post Co., Texas Sports Magazine and other publications.
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