December 29, 2013

NFL Postseason Seedings: Too Much Emphasis on Winning Your Division

By - Benjamin Lincecum

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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Really, why have divisions at all? Why have automatic bids when you could skip straight to allowing the teams with the best records into the playoffs? In truth, it's hard to defend the current format that grants so much importance and heaps so many rewards on division winners. Winning your division is important, but does that fact make one team better than another?

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.


  1. I disagree. If a wildcard team has a better record and has to travel to the opponents home(with a worse record), then it should be no problem to beat that team!! Having the better record doesn't necessarily mean you are a better team!!

  2. I like the way the NFL has it set up. You win your division you get a home playoff game. You have earned it by winning your division. Yeah it does suck if a 12-4 has to travel but you know what, win your division and you won't have to worry about it.

  3. While I agree that just because Team A has a better record than Team B that it's not necessarily indicative that Team A is better than Team B, but neither is whether Team A or B are division winners. I would think that a teams record is a better indicator of the teams quality than whether they won a division or not. Yes there are external factors that go into a teams record, but those same factors apply to whether a team wins its division or not as well.

  4. Melissa you can apply that same logic to a teams record. You have a better record, you get a home playoff game, you earned it by beating more teams than any other opponent did. In fact this is the logic the NFL does apply in almost all instances where comparisons between teams occur. It sucks if a division winner has to travel to a team with a better record, but if they would take care of business on the field and win more games they wouldn't have to worry about it.