Writer's note: I'll preface the article by noting that this in no way is an anti-Chargers rhetoric. Had Denver won Sunday night they still would not have belonged in the playoffs within a just system.
The current four-division conference alignment in the NFL further convolutes and waters down the legitimacy of the playoff system, clouding the waters on which are truly the top teams.
While scenarios such as the Colts visiting San Diego, and Atlanta visiting Arizona, are not every-year occurrences, the fact that they are allowed to happen at all, shows inherent weakness in the playoff seeding and berthing system.
As it stands, four division winners must make the playoffs, regardless of strength of division. It's reasonable to assume that with some frequency, there will be a "weak sister" in at least one division. Last year's NFC South saw Tampa go 9-7 and win the division.
Winning a division having to beat out only three of your rivals, versus the old system when you usually had to beat out four, lessens the achievement. The last two years, five of the eight divisions have had at least one five-win-or-less team within it.
The more games you play within your division, the more meaningful that title is. In the current system you have six divisional games, meaning most are out of division. It used to be half your games.
So what does the division title mean?
Further, winning your division guarantees a home-field match-up. Is this fair? The Falcons, a 4-4 road team, now face the Cardinals, who are 6-2 at home. Conversely, Atlanta is 7-1 at home, while Arizona is just 3-5 away.
Simply put, the NFL should return to the three-division format, with three division winners and three wild cards, or award playoff berths to the top six teams in each conference regardless of division.
If you're a New England fan and your team missed the playoffs at 11-5, this is not a crazy idea.
Nor is the idea that an 8-8 or 9-7 team that's been largely mediocre all year, has little chance of running the table and winning the Super Bowl.
If the NFL is going to keep the format the way it is—and naturally, they will—at the very least give the team with the best record the home game. What kind of message does it send the Colts that they had the second-best record in football, and have to play in the building of a team that won a division comprised of the Chiefs, Raiders, and Broncos—teams that combined only won three more games than Indy did.
In fact, the entire AFC West won 23 games. That's one fewer than the Titans and Colts combined! Same in the NFC West, which combined for 22 wins, one fewer than the Panthers and Falcons combined.
Clearly, there are divisions that are weak and do not deserve a home playoff game just for being the best of the worst in their exceedingly small corner of the NFL universe. While one can argue for it making things more interesting, it's unfair to very good teams in very good divisions, to be watching, or traveling, when they deserve better.
Pats? Colts? Falcons? 34-14. Not one playoff home game between them.
Chargers? Cardinals? 17-15. They'll be smiling and happy to roll out the red carpet, with nothing to lose and everything to gain.