Read the opposing argument from Optimist Prime.
Today’s debate, introduced to us by Sports Geek, has seemingly picked up a lot of steam in the past couple of weeks. Many columnists, such as Sports Illustrated writer Peter King (a favorite of mine), have written about the absurdity of, in essence, guaranteeing a home game to all division winners… no matter what the record is of the division winner or the Wild-Card winners. This has all come to the forefront thanks to the absolutely dreadful NFC West, where it is now quite possible that the division winner (St. Louis, Seattle, or yes, even San Francisco) could win the division title with a 7-9 record and host a first round playoff game. Meanwhile, poor little New Orleans is staring at the likelihood of being a double digit winner and having to go on the road for the first round. Is this right? Why, yes, it is!
It’s really hard to argue anything in regards to the 2010 NFC West, so I won’t even try. It’s bad. Really, really bad. But let’s not rewrite history and change the playoff format due to a bad division in one season. Would we even be having this debate if the Rams or the Seahawks were sitting at 8-6 tight now? Highly doubtful .
Let’s go back to 2008, just two short years ago, when both the Arizona Cardinals and the San Diego Chargers were division winners with records of 9-7 and 8-8, respectively. The Cardinals hosted an 11-5 Atlanta Falcons team in the first round of the playoffs. In a very entertaining game, the Cardinals eventually won 30-24. What did they do the next two weeks? They won… and after a sensational run and catch by Larry Fitzgerald in Super Bowl XLIII, we all thought the Cardinals had won the Super Bowl. But Santonio Holmes, in his pre-substance abuse days, had other ideas and created a Super Bowl memory with his catch in the corner of the end zone. That Cardinals team, despite winning a bad division with a 9-7 record, made it to the Super Bowl and nearly won the thing.
That same season the Chargers won the AFC West by going 8-8 and welcomed the mighty Indianapolis Colts to San Diego. The Colts entered the playoffs with a 12-4 record and were coming in with a nine game winning streak. In theory, the Colts should have hosted, right? Well, Darren Sproles and his legs had other ideas as he helped the Chargers win in overtime 23-17.
The bottom line is that a mediocre record as a division winner doesn’t guarantee a loss in the first round. There’s no guarantee that the Saints will beat the Rams or Seahawks, if that’s the matchup that takes place. If the Saints didn’t want to go on the road the first round, then they should have beaten Atlanta on their home turf. They shouldn’t have lost to Max Hall and his Arizona Cardinals, which is a game that still remains a head scratcher. They shouldn’t have lost to Colt McCoy and the Browns. Meanwhile, one of these teams in the West is going to win the division. They don’t make the schedule. They just go out and play. Seattle actually has a win in Chicago this season.
I see no reason to punish a division winner for achieving its goal of actually winning its division. The Wild Card winner doesn’t get home field in baseball. Why should it get a home game in the NFL? If you aren’t going to reward the division winners, then why even have divisions at all? Why don’t you just go ahead and have two gigantic 16 team conferences and have the six best records in each conference go to the playoffs? Don’t like that idea? Well, just leave it as it is then!