Interesting debate. This one comes down to how much a person values the idea of the division in the NFL model. Are divisions important or not?
Truthfully, divisions are extremely important to the NFL. They are part of the apparatus that allows for even play season after season and gives hope to bad teams. If all division winners matter, then teams draft with the idea that they must be able to beat their divisional opponents, and worry far less about the other teams in the league.
Remember the Mario Williams versus Reggie Bush debate? Fans were livid when the Texans took Williams over Bush with the first pick in the draft, but the idea was sound because a strong defensive end is what the team needed when playing against Peyton Manning twice in a season. Divisions are important, and winning them is important, too.
Loyal Homer wins this debate because he is correct that teams that many fans believe underperform in the regular season really show up in a big way in the NFL playoffs – and part of the reason that happens is the pressure cooker of division play. But, a mediocre regular season and a subsequent strong playoff run has been the nature of sports, really, in the past 20 years. Teams that do not play well in the regular season still seem to show up and be impressive in the post-season. Take a look at any major professional sport and it is evident that, year after year, team most think are mediocre to bad actually do quite well in the post-season. After all, didn’t the Florida Marlins win TWO World Series? Didn’t the lowly New York Giants beat the unbeaten New England Patriots? It happens in sports, teams that get hot at the right time deserve to win just as much as any other team. Why change the rule now?
More, truly championship quality teams do not need to lean on the crutch of playing at home. Good team adopt the philosophy that they can win no matter where they play or who they have to face.
Another good point from Loyal Homer is that the alternative of two gigantic 16 team conferences is stupid in the NFL. We already have that in the NBA and NHL, and we all see that division rivalries and heated games between teams that play each other a great deal, on a regular basis, simply do not exist. Sure, it is exciting when Boston plays L.A. in the NBA, but that is only a couple of times a season. Familiarity, plus frequency, makes for compelling sports. That is precisely what the NFL, with its division framework, is design to accomplish. For better or worse.
It is true that the NFC West has been a, “mess of mediocrity,” as Optimist Prime so eloquently states it. But, that does not mean a division winner – complete with the task of facing three teams twice in a season – does not deserve to host a game. Hosting a playoff game is not some archaic, bygone notion from NFL of yesteryear. It is a viable and appropriate way to reward a team for surviving, if not usually thriving, by playing in a tough league with a demanding schedule, complete with intra-division rivalries.
Fair, in this case, should not be applied to what the NFL has set up for how divisions work. To Loyal Homer’s point, why bother with divisions at all if there is no reward? The NFL rightly places a premium of schedule difficulty on the idea that beating – or even playing – a team twice in the same season is very difficult. Therefore, winning a division is an achievement, regardless of how difficult an out of conference schedule is.
Home field advantage is a nice to have, sure. But, it is not a need to have. Great teams win regardless of where their games are played, not because they were able to play a great deal at home. If a team really believes itself to be Super Bowl worthy, the occasional anomaly of a winning Wild Card team playing a mediocre team in the first round of the playoffs should not matter. That should be a winnable game, and home field advantage has nothing to do with it.
Loyal Homer has convinced that playing in –and winning – a division in the NFL is worth getting a first round home game. The NFL believes a home game is a reward (at least in terms of ticket sales), and to keep parity and balance thriving in the league, then divisions – for better or worse – must be a part of it.