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article imageOp-Ed: NFL playoffs seeds — Time for change

By Vincent Gerace     Jan 15, 2015 in Sports
It's that time again for football fans, a time when we all wonder, “Who will be in the Super Bowl?” As the NFL is in the thick of the playoffs the criteria to get the chance to play for the Lombardi Trophy should be discussed.
If you are one to watch every game of the playoffs then “Wild Card” weekend is no exception and you would have seen the Carolina Panthers beat the Arizona Cardinals in Charlotte, North Carolina to a score of 27-16 while making history holding the “Red Birds” to only 77 yards of total offense, least ever by a playoff team.
The game was held at the home of the Panthers because they earned the distinction of NFC South Division Champions. Being one of the lower-seeded division champs in their conference Carolina had to play in this first round playoff game against a wild-card team; a team that failed to win its division but managed to have one of the two best records in it’s conference for a team who wasn’t crowned with a division title. The odd thing is, the team hosting this game because of their regular season crown had a substantially worse record than the team that had to make the cross country trip to play the game.
That’s right, the Carolina Panthers bolstered a meager record of seven wins, eight losses, and one tie but were able to advance to the post season because of the ineptitude of their division, the NFC South, which did not have one of its four members, Panthers, Falcons, Saints, or Buccaneers, earn a winning record this season. This allowed Carolina to become the only team to ever win this division twice because, in spite of their own struggles, they had the best end of season mark.
Much the antithesis to Carolina’s team, the Arizona Cardinals finished the regular season at 11-5 playing in what is widely considered one of the top two divisions in the NFL, the NFC West, and won four more games than the Panthers finishing only behind the defending Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks. Yet, because of the league’s structure for the post-season, had to be entertained by the Panthers.
This is something that happens roughly once every for years or so, where a team with a record just below or equivalent to the five-hundred mark sneaks in with a division title because of poor play amongst all teams in that division that season. Now, do to injury at the quarterback position for Arizona and Ryan Lindley having to call the shots at QB, the Cardinals likely weren’t going to beat quarterback Cam Newton’s Panthers no matter where this game was played; but the travel from Phoenix to Charlotte on a short week, as the game was held on a Saturday, not Sunday, didn’t help matters.
Let’s liken this to a game four years prior, using the same two divisions in reverse roles oddly enough. The 2010 regular season had just wrapped and the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks reigned atop the then lowly NFC West. The New Orleans Saints, from the NFC South and defending World Champs at the time earned a wild-card birth with an 11-5 record but had to travel to Seattle for the game, sound familiar? The Seahawks ended up winning a tightly contested match-up 41-36, and their fans, and stadium structure that increases noise volume from those same fans is believed to have played a factor. So the questions go, “Should the game have been played there?” “Did Seattle earn the right to host a playoff game?” Much to the same tone as questions being asked currently in regard to the Ron Rivera coached Panthers.
With these questions come suggestions on what to do with this recurring issue. Leave it the same gets thrown in the mix, along with not allowing teams with losing records to make the playoffs and having a third “Wild-Card” team replace them, and even stealing a move form the Canadian Football League, having the best team in the opposing conference that missed the playoffs jump over and replace the losing record holding Division Champions; still allowing that team to be crowned for their regular season accomplishment, but stopping there. Though this could lead to an interesting Super Bowl or two, like Packers against Bears, Browns verse Stealers, or even the Jets and Colts in a rematch of “The Guarantee,” Super Bowl III, all impossible under today’s format, and they don’t seem like anything the NFL would go for. Here are two additional ideas for changes that could make all the difference and even the playing field a bit.
First, all criteria to make the playoffs remains the exact same. A team with a losing record, who wins their division can continue their hunt for a world title in the playoffs. The difference simply comes in the seeding of those teams. Once the six teams for each conference (four division champions and two wild-card selections) have secured spots in the post-season they are seeded one through six based on record and necessary tie-breakers should two or more teams share an equal record, and from there things play out as they do now. The number one and number two seeded teams in each conference get a first round bye and automatically advance to round 2, seed 3 plays seed 6, and seed 4 plays seed 5, with the higher seed hosting the game.
This would eliminate the chance of a team with a losing record, or inferior record even, hosting a team with a better one unless multiple teams in each conference made the playoffs with losing records but I imagine in that case the “fly-over”, usually reserved for some military craft that accompanies The Star Spangled Banner would be done by pigs. This adjustment should lead to a clean cut route to the big show with no team that out performed their opponent in the regular season having to be a gracious guest at the house of a less accomplished squad.
A second suggestion that begins much the same starts with the way of making the playoffs remaining in tact. I am partial to this because I think the NFL needs a little college-like influence once in a while and removing the regular season’s impact on the post-season would take away from that, and, after all, we can all agree that the NFL loves parody and that is easily created when teams who lose more than they win get a chance to be crowned “The Best on the World.” Therefore, the format for making the playoffs remains, and the teams are seeded just as they are now.
One and two seeds receive a first round bye, the third ranked team will play the lowest seeded wild-card, the fourth best team then falls into place and will play the higher ranked wild-card. Here’s where the difference comes in: the “Wild-Card Games” are played at neither teams’ home field. Instead the games are played at neutral cites, in stadiums that are home to teams in the opposing conference who failed to make the playoffs that are most central to the two teams facing off.
First, let’s knock the easy questions out of the way, “Why should the cite used be home to a non-playoff team?” This is so no playoff team is having to worry about their field, provided it is grass, get torn up by a game they aren’t even a part of, and because placing these games in stadiums of playoff teams would be a scheduling nightmare. “Why a neutral cite?” A neutral cite would take away from either teams’ argument that they should host a playoff game or that their opponent should not, the division champion with the lesser record and the wild-card with the more impressive resume` are seen as more equivalent than anything else, and treated as such by neither getting a home game. “Why does it have to be a team’s stadium from the other conference?” To eliminate the chance that the game wind up in a conference, or divisional rival of one the teams playing in it. In that instance a flood of fans for that team’s rival could attend the game giving the opponent a home field atmosphere, which is exactly what is trying to be neutralized.
Take that idea and put it into action featuring the very same Carolina Panthers and Arizona Cardinals. This game would be played in Kansas City’s Arrow Head Stadium, home of the Chiefs who missed the AFC playoffs this season. Following this game, home field advantage would resume as typical but the winners of these “wild-card games” would have to play the rest of their playoff match-ups (however many that may be) on the road all the way up until the Super Bowl, which, of course is at a neutral cite. So, if a neutral cite is good enough to end the playoffs, why wouldn’t it be good enough to start them?
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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