29 December 2014

The Panthers are hosting a playoff game with a losing record, and that's okay

The Carolina Panthers at one point this season went two months without winning a football game. They allowed more points than they scored, 35 to be exact, and they finished with a 7-8-1 record. And yet here they are, having won their final four games to win the NFC South and get to host a game in the NFC Playoffs. They will only host a team in the Arizona Cardinals that only won four more games than them. Therefore, this has led many an observer to say that a division winner should not automatically get to host a playoff game.

However, I don't agree with that mindset and here is why.

Consider me old-fashioned but I still believe that winning a division should mean something. If you win a division in the NBA or the NHL, you get to host a series (MLB is different in that two division champs do play each other while the top team will host a wild card team). And while everybody wants to win the Super Bowl, winning the division is one of the top goals of any team. No matter what the record of the division champion is, that team still won their division.

Sure, sometimes divisions can be bad and they are not designed to necessarily be balanced, rather they are positioned as such due to geographic concerns and rivalries (hence the Cowboys in the NFC East). But even then, the division champion should be awarded something more than just making the playoffs, and thus having to play a team that didn't win their division. Because if that is the case, what is the point of having divisions.

Scrapping divisions and simply going with the six best teams completely gets rid of this problem. Of course, that leaves questions of scheduling but if the concerns are about getting the best teams in the playoff, then that is the best way to do it. But if you are going to have divisions, I believe that you have to reward them accordingly. And if this system is not fair to the wild card teams with better records, I say tough. The better team should be able to go on the road and defeat an inferior club. The Saints could not get it done in 2011 in Seattle, the Steelers could not get it done in Denver in 2012 and so on.


  1. Your point of view is perfectly valid Ben. Another way could be that a division winner who DOESN'T reach .500 can be ousted by a team from another division with a better record. In this case the Eagles would take Carolina's play-off slot and play away at Dallas leaving Detroit to play at Arizona. This way the divisions can still be maintained and the best team get to the play-offs. An 8-8 division winner gets to the play-offs. Whatcha think? Doable? Happy 2015.

  2. Actually, this state of affairs just might give more ammo to the push to expand the playoffs (add one wild card team per conference) as early as next season...