How screwed up is the NFL when a 9-7 team (Arizona) is hosting an 11-5 team (Atlanta), and an 8-8 team (San Diego) is hosting a 12-4 team (Indianapolis)? And even though Miami and Baltimore have identical records, Baltimore technically finished ahead of Miami because they beat them head-to-head, so that makes three of the four road teams this weekend with better records than their home opponents. And if the Eagles hadn’t blown the Washington game, all four road teams would have had better records than their home counterparts. I’d be surprised if that even happened twice in one playoff week before this season.
It’s a consequence of the eight-division alignment the NFL now employs: you get a weak 8-8 division winner like San Diego hosting a playoff game while New England at 11-5 is sitting home (not that I feel sorry for Belechick). I know such occurrences happened occasionally in the old six-division alignment, but that problem was largely resolved when they added a third wildcard to each conference. Things were running pretty smoothly from that point on until they decided to realign into eight divisions. Unfortunately, the NFL has backed itself into a corner. They can’t add more playoff teams (that would just dilute the quality and turn the NFL into the NHL), and they’ll never return to a six-division alignment, so it will probably become fairly common to see teams with double-digit wins sitting at home for the playoffs while 8-8 teams move on. We may even one day see the unthinkable scenario of a 7-9 team hosting a playoff game against a 13-3 team–it could happen, and that would be a major embarassment for the league.
At the very least, the NFL should rethink giving automatic higher seeds to division winners, because there’s no way that San Diego and Arizona deserve to host playoff games.