A new seeded playoff system

I have to agree that it is absurd that teams in certain divisions won't make it to the playoffs with records of 11-5 and others can make it with records of 8-8. I stumbled upon this article by Gregg Easterbrook of ESPN. In it he writes:

"Seven-headed dragons stalk the NFL; armored locusts will be observed in stadium stands this weekend; the league headquarters will move from Manhattan to Babylon, N.Y. Why? It is the Armageddon of the playoff system.

When the regular season concludes, there is a chance that two 8-8 teams will advance to the playoffs, and a chance that two 10-6 teams will not. It is possible that two 8-8 teams will make the playoffs while an 11-5 team does not. The mere fact that this is possible as the final weekend arrives tells you the NFL playoff system is broken. It must be replaced by a seeded tournament.

It's bad enough that Indianapolis, already 11-4 with a possible 12-4 finish, will open on the road at either 8-8 San Diego or 9-7 Denver. It's bad enough that Arizona, which has lost four of its past five games, could finish 8-8 and host a playoff game against a team that finished 11-5. It's bad enough that those same Cardinals, who were just blown off the field 47-7 by New England, are already in the postseason while the Patriots could finish 11-5 and not make it. Just consider: Baltimore, Chicago, Jersey/B, Miami, New England and Tampa all enter the final weekend in danger of finishing 10-6 yet being eliminated. All of them won't, of course. But a few will.

It's Armageddon for the NFL's division-based postseason format. For an 8-8 NFL team to reach the postseason while an 11-5 team does not would be like if, in Major League Baseball, an 81-81 team made the playoffs while a 111-51 team did not. Such a result would make a mockery of the notion that sports rewards merit -- luck in division assignments would mean more than performance on the field. The NFL's flawed postseason formula has been producing skewed results for years, such as last season, when the 9-7 Bucs hosted the 10-6 Giants and the 10-6 Browns did not make the playoffs at all. In 1985, the 11-5 Broncos were denied entry into the postseason while the 8-8 Browns advanced. But this year's results may be the most skewed ever for the NFL, making a laughingstock of the league's postseason format. Armageddon! Grab your tuna fish cans and rifles and head for the hills!

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Not only is the premise of the sport sullied when teams that don't perform well are rewarded while teams that do perform well are sent home, think of the matchups we'll be missing! Are you really anxious to watch the Arizona Cardinals again? Wouldn't you rather see what the Patriots, Dolphins, Ravens, Jets or Bears can do in the postseason? Great matchups are the essence of postseason NFL ratings. The current system discourages great matchups by placing such a high value on pure luck regarding how your division performs that season.

The NFL postseason format simply must be switched to a seeded tournament. Divisions are fine for organizing regular-season play, but when it comes to the postseason, the top 12 teams should be taken regardless of division or conference. The current system was not handed to Moses etched onto a stone tablet -- NFL owners changed the playoff format in 2002, they changed it in 1990, they can change it again. A seeded NFL tournament could only make the postseason more exciting.

If the season ended today as a seeded tournament, these (using simplified tiebreakers -- I did not run every ramification) would be the pairings. Byes: Titans, Giants, Steelers, Panthers. First round: Jets, Bears or Bucs at Colts, Cowboys at Pats, Ravens at Falcons, Vikings at Dolphins. Is there one single NFL fan anywhere who does not think this seeded postseason tournament would have more appeal than the first round we're going to end up with?"


Here's the link. There's no way around it. I have to agree with Gregg. The playoff system needs an overhaul to credit those teams that achieved more than others.

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