12/07/14 by Rennie Detore
As much as the off the field soap opera that has become the NFL in 2014 continues with discussions regarding Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, among others, one on the field topic seems to rear its ugly head on a consistent, year by year basis.
The dilemma centers on the NFL playoff format, more specifically the idea that a team with a losing record, in this case a division winner nonetheless, could actually compete for the right to play on the grandest stage in professional sports: The Super Bowl.
This season, the lackluster distinction goes to the NFC South, which as of today, has a would be division winner sitting with five wins and seven loses. Two teams actually, the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints, share that record and, if that isn't pathetic enough, the three wins and eight losses Carolina Panthers are only two games out of first place, even though they're five games under the .500 mark.
Describing this division as anything but just plain ugly is an understatement, but the reality of how the NFL Playoffs shake out, you could easily see a division champion team with seven wins host a Wild Card game in a few weeks against wild card team with 10 or 11 wins.
Imagine the feeling of taking double digit wins and having to go on the road to play against a team you're conceivably and potentially three or four wins better than, but you're being punished per say because you happen to not play in a remarkably weak and uncompetitive division.
Now to be fair to the Falcons, Saints and Panthers, they're not the first class of division teams that will find themselves in this position. It has happened in previous years in other divisions as well and most certainly will happen again in subsequent years.
The issue isn't so much the NFL parity but rather a question as to if the league plans on addressing this any time soon. Personally, the thought of a team with a losing record in the playoffs seems odd but hard to question considering they did, in fact, win their division, even if that hardly registers as a real accomplishment.
A tougher pill to swallow this year is going to be a 7 and 9 or 8 and 8 team from the NFC making the playoffs when the highly competitive AFC is likely going to send teams with 10 or 11 wins home for the playoffs. Right now, there is a log jam for the sixth and final AFC wild card spot with several teams with seven wins hanging in the balance. That 7 and 5 record in the NFC South would give them a two game lead of first place in the division.
Kind of hard not to be a little bitter if you're an AFC team sitting at home watching the Falcons or Saints in the playoffs, right?
The NFL has talked openly about adding wild card teams to the current crop of playoff teams, six specifically, that make the playoffs in each conference. That idea reeks of money making rather than adding competition to the game. Adding teams only is going to mean more mediocre records are going to creep into the playoffs and muddy waters that already are hardly crystal clear.
The field of six per conference is fine, and ultimately the NFL can't do much with division champions who hardly fit that bill with records that are laughable even though they're the "class" of a particular division.
Losing teams in the playoffs is a reality that exists in the NFL because division winners receive a pass to the playoffs no matter how they technically go there. For the NFL moving forward, the goal should be to keep those bumbling, stumbling and below .500 teams out of the playoffs beyond the division "champs."
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