Roger Goodell: Change Playoff Structure

Andrew Quigley, Staff Writer

This past May, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell expressed interest in expanding the playoffs from six to seven teams in each conference for the 2015 season. This new system adds a third wild card in each conference, leaving the number one seeds as the only teams to receive a first round bye in the playoffs. Change the playoffs if you want, Mr. Goodell, but consider changing the structure of your league’s playoffs while you’re at it.

When it comes to the playoffs, winning your division means one thing: hosting a playoff game. It’s great for the team, as they get to play  in familiar surroundings at least one more time in the season. The host city rakes in a couple million bucks as well, as fans flood its hotels and eating establishments.

On the other side of the coin, wild card playoff teams hit the road for their games. Each player spends some quality time with his “favorite seat” on the airplane, as he does a lot of travelling if his team sticks around long enough in the playoffs.

So what’s the problem? The top four teams win their divisions. The bottom two do not. It only makes sense that the division winners get to play at home, right? Well, not exactly.

Occasionally, a wild card team finishes the season with a better record than a division winner. However, they are a wild card team, so they hit the road for their game. How is that fair?

Take the 2013 San Francisco 49ers. The squad finished with a solid regular season record of 12-4. However, the 49ers’ division rival, the Seattle Seahawks, finished 13-3 and took the NFC West crown. The result? San Francisco travelled to frigid Green Bay to take on the 8-7-1 Packers. San Francisco finished with four more wins than the Packers and beat them head-to-head during the regular season. In the end, the 49ers escaped Lambeau Field with a narrow 23-20 defeat of the Packers. Other teams aren’t so lucky.

We all remember the notorious 7-9 squad the Seattle Seahawks fielded during the 2010 season. 7-9 usually isn’t anywhere close to the postseason, but due to an abysmal NFC West, the Hawks took the division crown and got to host the 11-5 defending super bowl champion New Orleans Saints. The Saints beat Seattle during the regular season, but the 12th man of Qwest Field led the upstart Hawks to a 41-36 upset victory in their rematch. The far superior Saints packed up and watched the rest of the playoffs from their couches.

Secondly, both the 2013 Packers and 2010 Seahawks kept other teams with better records out of the playoffs. The 2013 10-6 Arizona Cardinals could only wonder what they could’ve done in the playoffs as they watched Green Bay fall to San Francisco in the wild card round. The 10-6 New York Giants and Tampa Bay Buccaneers of 2010 could only watch as the inferior 7-9 Seahawks played in their place. To avoid similar dilemmas in the future, a structural change needs to be made for the playoffs.

The divisions are great when it comes to regular season scheduling in the NFL, but the focus needs to turn away from them in the playoffs. Instead of four division winners and two wild cards, the NFL needs to accept the six teams who have the best regular season records. These teams work hard during the season to achieve a top six record. Their hard work needs to be rewarded. If it means the AFC West or any other division fields three teams, so be it. Taking the top six clubs from each conference eliminates any conversation of “snubbed” teams following week seventeen.

Given the current standings, the 5-8 Atlanta Falcons are in place to host a NFC playoff game next month. The time is now for the NFL to revamp its playoff structure. The 9-4 Dallas Cowboys and 7-6 49ers would be watching from their homes. Not everything in life is fair, but the playoffs should be as close to fair as they can get. Make the change, Mr. Goodell. Don’t accept mediocrity in the NFL playoffs.