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Week 17: More division winners means more bad teams in NFL playoffs
December 26, 2013 - Matt Wellens
The NFL’s current conference and divisional alignment is great for regular season drama.
It’s great for regular season scheduling because it puts a strong emphasis on regional rivalries, while still allowing a good variety of opponents via a scheduling rotation.
However, it stinks when it comes to setting up an entertaining postseason tournament.
When the NFL moved from six divisions to eight divisions in 2002, it meant the playoffs went from six division winners and six wild card teams to eight division winners and four wild card teams.
The result of more division winners and less wild cards is more bad teams making the playoffs and more bad teams hosting in the first round.
For instance, the two NFC wild card teams that go on the road this year will have better records than the champions of the NFC North and East.
It also appears the Arizona Cardinals will be on the outside looking in on the playoffs while teams with worse records from the NFC North and East make the playoffs.
The Green Bay Packers potentially at 8-7-1 do not deserve to get into the playoffs if they beat the Chicago Bears on Sunday, and the Packers certainly don’t deserve to host the New Orleans Saints or San Francisco 49ers on that frozen brown mess of a field.
What’s worse is if the Packers make the playoffs at 8-7-1, there’s still 11 teams — the 2010 NFC West champion Seahawks at 7-9 and 10 others at 8-8 — with worse winning percentages to have reached the playoffs since the NFL went to 16 regular season games.
There’s also the 1978 Minnesota Vikings, who won the NFC Central via a tiebreaker with the Packers. Both teams finished 8-7-1 that year.
The 1978 Vikings and 1985 Cleveland Browns were the only eight-win teams to win their division during the era of six divisions with four other 8-8 teams earning wild card berths.
Since the NFL went to eight divisions, two teams have won their division at 8-8 — the 2001 Denver Broncos and 2008 San Diego Chargers — while three others made the playoffs at 8-8 as wild cards.
Then of course there are the 2010 Seahawks.
Because of scheduling, it’s probably too much to ask the NFL to go back to six divisions, however, it can change who hosts playoff games.
Division champs deserve a playoff spot, but allow the four best teams with the four best records in each conference to host, with the top two seeds getting byes.
That way, the NFL isn’t rewarding awful teams from awful divisions for getting into the playoffs by default.
Now on to my picks, where each week I will include a short analysis on the Packers’ and Lions’ games, plus the primetime games on NBC and ESPN. There is no Thursday night game this week on NFL Network or a Monday Night Football game on ESPN, but here are the games that mean the most this Sunday.
Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings
1 p.m., Sunday, FOX
This will be the last Vikings game ever played in the Metrodome. It should also be Jim Schwartz’s last game as head coach of the Lions. The Metrodome deserves the better send off. Vikings 21, Lions 20
4:25 p.m., Sunday, FOX
It doesn’t matter whether or not Aaron Rodgers plays at Solider Field, because Clay Matthews is who the Packers need to pull off an improbable NFC North title run. Bears 21, Packers 18
1 p.m., Sunday
The Bengals can earn a first-round bye with a win and a New England Patriots loss at home to the Buffalo Bills. Meanwhile, the defending Super Bowl champions need a win and either a San Diego Chargers or Miami Dolphins loss to get in, among other scenarios. Bengals 23, Ravens 20
4:25 p.m., Sunday
At 10-5, the Cardinals have actually put together a fine season and can make the playoffs with a win and a New Orleans Saints loss. The 49ers need a Seattle Seahawks loss to win the NFC West. Cardinals 28, 49ers 27
8:30 p.m., Sunday, NBC
The Cowboys can’t win an NFC East title with Kyle Orton at quarterback, but they probably weren’t going to win one with Tony Romo under center either. Like Bears-Packers, winner makes the playoffs. Eagles 31, Cowboys 21
Here are the rest of my picks with winners in bold:
Browns at Steelers
Redskins at Giants
Texans at Titans
Jaguars at Colts
Jets at Dolphins
Panthers at Falcons
Buccaneers at Saints
Bills at Patriots
Rams at Seahawks
Broncos at Raiders
Chiefs at Chargers
. Last week: 10-6. Overall: 143-96-1.
Matt Wellens is Sports Editor of the Mining Journal. Check out his Armchair QB column every Thursday at MiningJournal.net and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mattwellens. Email him at email@example.com.
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