A hot topic this time of year is always the NFL postseason format, and the same question is continually being posed; should division winners receive higher seeds and home games regardless of their regular season records compared to the wild card teams?
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The NFL weighs nearly everything on a team's record. Currently, aside from wild cards, this is the way teams are seeded in the playoffs. The division winner with the best record gets the top seed. It's also how the division winners are decided in general. It's how ties between teams who finish with the same record are broken. It even decides who wins the wild card, and how those ties are broken as well.
It's difficult to comprehend how a team's record is so important in so many of these occasions, yet has no real bearing on how teams are seeded once the playoffs start.
One of the more recent examples is the 2010 Saints having to travel to the 7-9 division-winning Seahawks for their opening round playoff game. New Orleans sported an 11-5 record, which included a victory over Seattle and the rest of their division during the regular season. Because Atlanta had one more victory than the Saints, though, they rightly finished second in their own division.
However, that record would have found them in a tie with Chicago for the second-best mark in the conference. But instead of having the second or third seed and hosting a playoff game, they were forced to travel to Seattle, where they ultimately lost in a wild affair.
Even this season. The Saints and 49ers are on the road in the first round facing teams they had better records than during the regular season. New Orleans won one more game than Philadelphia, while the Niners won four more than the Packers. Four.
Obviously, there are good reasons for division winners to receive automatic bids to the playoffs despite their records. This helps keep geographic interest in the postseason and provides the NFL with a much wider viewer number. Still, I can't see how one can justify a team getting a home game because of this.
Travel numbers would likely remain approximately the same regardless of which team goes where, and I highly doubt anyone who would watch on TV if it were a home game would not watch if it were a road one. I fail to see this as justification for a division winner with a poorer record being awarded a home game.
The lone argument in favor of the current format is that putting so much emphasis on winning a division keeps teams playing throughout the season. We saw in baseball what devaluing the division winner did when you had clubs like the Red Sox and Yankees not really caring if they actually won their division or not.
Personally, I don't think the two sports are comparable on this matter.
Given the fact that numerically each game in football is much more important, a team would have to know for a matter of weeks where they would be seeded in order to rest players, and I just don't see that happening in the NFL like it did/does in baseball. If anything, we could turn the argument around and see it could lead to an increase competitiveness where teams like Kansas City and New Orleans would still be in contention for a high seed and possibly hosting a playoff game.
Simply put, I find it disingenuous for the National Football League to assign some sort of mythical significance to a team winning its division and grant them a home game over a team with a better record. If a team's record means so much in determining whether they make the playoffs or not and where they are seeded, why should it be rendered completely irrelevant for wild card teams?
Home-field advantage is a much bigger deal in football than it is in any other sport. For that reason, the teams with the best records should be the ones hosting the playoffs games. Division winner or not.