The Carolina Panthers, who today finished the 2014 NFL regular season with a sub-.500 record, are NFC South champions, and will host a playoff game next weekend against the 11-5 Arizona Cardinals. I'm not thrilled that Carolina will get to host a postseason game against a team that, despite its late-season struggles, managed to win three-and-a-half more games than the Panthers during the course of the year. This is why I'm proposing a change to the current NFL playoff system.
Right now, the NFC playoff match-ups for next weekend look like this, with games scheduled to be played at the home stadiums of the higher seeds:
(6) Detroit Lions (11-5) vs. (3) Dallas Cowboys (12-4)
(5) Arizona Cardinals (11-5) vs. (4) Carolina Panthers (7-8-1).
It doesn't look right that a Carolina team which won just seven-and-a-half games on the year qualified for the postseason, but I can deal with that since they won their division. I think division champions should qualify for the tournament regardless of their record.
The match-ups for next weekend's playoff games, however, definitely look off. How could a Dallas team that won 12 games this year get a home game against the 11-win Lions? All while the 7-8-1 Panthers get to host a first-round playoff game? Some reward for the Cowboys!
This is why I'm proposing that the NFL begin seeding the teams in each conference after the regular season ends. Under this format, the worst team to qualify for the playoffs would receive the sixth seed, regardless of whether they were division champions or not, followed by the team with the second-worst playoff record at the fifth seed, and so on. If this setup were implemented tonight, this year's NFC playoffs would be seeded as follows:
(1) Seattle Seahawks
(2) Green Bay Packers
(3) Dallas Cowboys
(4) Arizona Cardinals
(5) Detroit Lions
(6) Carolina Panthers.
This makes more sense for everyone. The teams that had successful seasons are rewarded with home games. The Cowboys would get to play at AT&T Stadium against the Panthers, which I think would be more of a reward for a 12-win squad. This method also makes more sense than allowing the Panthers to host a game against the Cardinals, who, as noted above, won three-and-a-half more games than their wild-card foes this year.
One could argue that perhaps Carolina shouldn't be allowed to enter the postseason at all since Philadelphia (10 wins) and San Francisco (8 wins) each had a record better than that of the Panthers (I believe it was Daryl Johnston who mentioned on Fox today that some people think the sub-.500 NFC South winner doesn't deserve a playoff berth because of the Eagles' superior record). But I'm beginning to think of the NFL playoffs like March Madness: The conference (in this case, the division) champions automatically qualify for the dance, and then are seeded based upon their regular-season performance. It would be a little strange, in my opinion, for an NFL team to simultaneously win a division title and miss out on the playoffs.
But when a division champion has a worse record than its playoff counterparts, it should be given a lower seed. It doesn't make sense to reward NFL teams with poor records by giving them home playoff games.