The playoff rules need changing
Paul, I can certainly understand your point of view on the subject, I hate when people want to change the way things have been for a long time just because one event happened, usually an event that hasnít happen before or rarely at all. In this case however, the situation already has changed, and thatís why the NFL needs to change its playoff rules to follow suit.
The Seattle Seahawks are getting ready to host a playoff game at Qwest Field, instead of New Meadowlands or Raymond Jamesí tenants. This in spite of Seattle achieving a 7-9 record, having lost 7 of their last 10 games, including 3 of the last 4 games by 58 total points!
The Bucs not only beat Seattle 38-15 two weeks ago, but they finished 3 whole games ahead of the Seahawks when you look at conference standings. Itís the first time ever that a sub-.500 team is going to the playoffs, and to be honest it gives the NFL a black eye.
The networks do whatever they can to try to get premium matchups for its viewers, doing flex scheduling in the later half of the season, and using teamís records to determine itís prime time schedule the next season. Fans want to see good teams play. The Bucs just finished tying their 4th best record ever, having broken several records in the process offensively. This is the most exciting Tampa Bay team in sometime, and you wont find too many people that would argue Tampa Bay with its 6-2 record on the road would be a dangerous team had it been invited to the big dance.
So what do I propose? NFL Teams should qualify for the playoffs like college teams qualify for bowl games by winning half their games. Make NFL teams go at least 8-8 before they can make the playoffs, and make it so a winning record (9-7 or 8-7-1) is required before you can host a playoff game in your stadium. Itís not radical change, and if you applied it to the last five seasons you wouldnít have had any changes to playoff teams.
So you may ask ďIf it doesnít change anything why do itĒ? Simple, the NFL landscape IS changing. Teams used to play eight of 16 games as divisional contests, 50%. Even higher if you go back before 1978 when teams played only 14 games when these rules were all created. But divisional games donít mean as much as they used to.
Since the realignment in 2002, now only six of 16 games are division ones, and that will get even lower if the NFL goes to an 18 game schedule like it seems is inevitable. Once that happens, only 1/3 of all games will be divisional, thus removing the importance of the divisional matchup. In fact, I predict divisional games will be more of a tiebreaker once the 18-game season happens. At that point a new playoff system will have to be created.
For now though, donít let sub-.500 teams in the playoffs when you have plenty of good teams that would like to go. These proposed alterations are nothing in comparison to the radical change that re-alignment was when that happened in 2002. A move that in my opinion put a damper on the parity the NFL was enjoying.
Now only two games per year are Ďat largeí games that give you matchups of teams that finish in the same position as you. With this change, we are getting more winning and more losing teams. The Ďmiddle classí so to speak of the NFL is disappearing, weíre seeing an undefeated and a winless season, something deemed impossible only a few years ago, happen within one season of each other as was the case with New England in 2007 and Detroit in 2008.
This makes the chance of something like this happen again. Itís been since 1991 since the last time two NFC teams havnít made the playoffs with 10-6 records. A few years ago an 11-5 Patriots team missed out on the playoffs. Lets change things up a little just to prevent a sorry 7-9 team from ever going to the playoffs again.