How Should NFL Playoffs Be Seeded?

John NewmanCorrespondent IApril 24, 2009

TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 30:  Footballs with Super Bowl XLIII logos sit in a window at a store on January 30, 2009 in Tampa, Florida. NFL Fans from across the country are descending on Tampa ahead of Super Bowl XLIII between the Arizona Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Steelers.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

There's been some discussion in various quarters lately about the fairness of NFL playoff seedings—in large part because an 11-5 Patriot team did not make the playoffs last year and an 12-4 Colt team had to travel to San Diego to play an 8-8 Charger team last year.

Currently, the division winners in each conference get the top four seeds, ordered by overall record, with tiebreakers if necessary. This guarantees each division winner at least one home playoff game.

The two remaining seeds in each conference are the two non-division winners with the best overall records. This can lead to a team with a better overall record than a division winner not making the playoffs—as in the case of the Patriots last year—and also lead to a team with a better overall record playing at a division winner's home stadium—as in the case of the Colts having to travel to San Diego last year.

Is this fair? Or should the division winners and the top two remaining teams be seeded by overall record? Or should we just ignore division winners and grab the top six teams in each conference by overall record alone and seed them accordingly?

Let's think about this for a second. If we're not going to assign any value to winning a division, why have them? There's no point to have divisions if winning one is meaningless, right?

So what would life be like in an NFL without divisions?

First of all, without divisions, why have division games? To be fair you'd have to rework the schedule somehow. Currently the 16 game schedule is split into 12 games against conference foes, and four games against teams from the other conference. You could maintain that split, I suppose, but instead of basing it on division, base it on some other parameter.

The NFL is big on parity, you could make the schedules based on the way teams finished in the conference the previous season. The NFC Champion would play the top 4 teams in the AFC and the second through 13th finishers in the NFC, for example, and all the other teams would be seeded going into the season based on where they finished the previous season.

Or you could just do some kind of random schedule, or a schedule that rotates over 16 years or something else.

But you'd no longer have those yearly home and away wars against your division rivals.

Why not? Because it's not fair for Minnesota Green Bay and Chicago to get to play Detroit twice every year, while Dallas doesn't get a break going against the Giants, Skins and Eagles twice every year. At least that's what Cowboy fans would be thinking. And they'd have a valid point, as long as Detroit totally sucks anyway.

And if you lose those rivalry games (Cowboys/Eagles, 49ers/Rams, Packers/Bears, Steelers/Ravens, Titans/Colts, Chiefs/Raiders, etc), you lose a lot of what makes the NFL so fun.

For years the Saints and Falcons were the sad sacks of the league, but the rivalry between those two teams in the two games they play each year, has always been as fun and intense as any in the league, even when both teams sucked.

The year Dallas went 1-15, their one win came against the hated Redskins. The year the Redskins won the Super Bowl in a strike shortened 1982 season, their one loss came against the despised Cowboys. Packers/Bears is the oldest rivalry in the league, Packers/Vikings has been full of strange doings. Broncos/Raiders involves owners, coaches, players, cheerleaders, waterboys and catering staff.

These rivalries, in large part, have made the league what it is today.

You just can't get rid of them.

And by the same token, you have to reward teams that win their division, because that makes winning the division important, and keeping that important is key to maintaining those rivalries.

And to the 11-5 playoff-less Patriots, and the road traveling 12-4 Colts, all I have to say to them is: Tough, stop bellyaching and win your damn division next time.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.