Repeal and Replace.......the NFL's Playoff Format

This time of the year, as the NFL’s regular season dwindles down to its final weeks, one common theme seems to be as persistent as Boogie Cousins’ run-ins with Sacramento Kings management – and their reporters: the flaws of the NFL playoff system. Time and time again throughout this past election season, we heard now President-elect Donald J. Trump call to “repeal and replace” Obamacare. I mean we easily heard those exact words about four-thousand times. Likewise, I am using that same catchy alliteration to make an appeal to the NFL to revamp its playoff structure. But like a knowledgeable professor once told me, never bring a problem to your boss without a proper solution. Well, the NFL surely is not my boss – one can only wish – but I will propose a logical solution to fix the current playoff format anyway, free of charge (Actually, I wouldn’t mind being paid in ticket stubs for that Giants game on February 5th).

A lot of NFL pundits have largely called for one of two options regarding the playoff system: either (a) keep it status quo or (b) let the six best records from each conference get in. I’ll talk about keeping the status quo in a little bit, but my case against allowing entry to the six best records rests primarily on the meaning of divisional games. As fans, there is no entertainment quite like those that take place within the division. Seeing the Giants take on the Cowboys in Jerry World or the Bears and Packers battle it out on the frozen tundra of Lambeau brings a sense of emotion that just cannot be replicated. If we threw the importance of those divisional games out the window – which we would essentially be doing by lessening the emphasis on winning the division – the rivalries in the NFL would ultimately reduce in meaning, and that would be unfavorable to all parties involved.

The existing playoff format has its ups and downs. Over the years, I think the downs have been overlooked, but recently they are just too big not to see. The main issue is, of course, divisional winners getting in with worse records than teams that do not qualify for the postseason. It seems like almost every year a 10-6 record does not suffice for postseason play. In 2014, it was the Eagles; in 2015, the Jets. It is bound to happen again this year with competitive wild card races in both conferences. The culprit is one or two weak divisions every year (i.e. the AFC South) that allow 9-7 to take the cheese; meanwhile, divisions like the AFC East are nearly unwinnable to anyone besides the Patriots because anything less than 12-4 does not get the job done. Unfortunately, I do not see an effective solution to this phenomenon. Like mentioned above, the divisional- winner system is too important to abolish; therefore, my issue and subsequent proposal roots from what happens after the playoff field is set.

While, in my opinion, entry to the playoffs should stay as is, the current seeding process needs to undergo a major overhaul. Just because 9-7 may win a team its respective division, does not mean that it should lead to a higher playoff seed than a wild card team with a better record. I do not think it is justifiable to value a division winner over a wild card entrant – and that is what the NFL currently does. A re-seeding makes too much sense not to happen. In other words, my proposal is a hybrid of sorts: keep the entry requirements status quo, which allows for divisional games to preserve their significance. However, once the playoff field is determined using the current parameters, a re-seeding process should be utilized, ranking the teams one through six depending on record and other present tiebreaking procedures. This would allow for wild card teams to be rewarded for their seasonal achievements instead of being treated with contempt for not winning their respective divisions.

If the season ended today, the first round of the playoffs would look like this:

AFC – Miami at Pittsburgh, Kansas City at Houston

NFC – New York at Detroit, Green Bay at Atlanta

If the NFL adopted my proposal, three out of the four above games would be flip-flopped. The difference would be monumental.