RENTON, Wash. – Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright thinks the most spectacular play in franchise history never should have happened. He feels Marshawn Lynch’s “Beast Quake” run in the first round of the 2010 season’s playoffs was the result of a flawed system.
The Seahawks were 7-9 that year but won the NFC West, meaning they were hosting the 11-5 Saints when Lynch broke off that famous 67-yard score. Wright’s thoughts? A team under .500 never should have been in playoffs to begin with.
“Take your butts home. You won seven games,” Wright said.
But they won the division!
“I say, may the best six win,” continued Wright, meaning the teams with the six best records in each conference should make the playoffs regardless of how they did in their division. “When I become the commissioner, that’s what I’m going to do.”
This wasn’t an unsolicited response by Wright, but rather an answer to a question about playoff seeding. As it stands, each of the NFL’s eight division winners gets to host at least one playoff game, even if its record is worse than its opponent’s.
This benefited the Seahawks (10-3) nine years ago but might hurt them this season, as they’re a game behind the 11-2 Niners in the division while the Cowboys and Eagles are tied atop the NFC East at 6-7. Fair? Many say no.
“It doesn’t make sense to me,” Seahawks offensive lineman George Fant said. “You should reward the team with the better record.”
The problem with this, though, is that three-eighths of a team’s schedule is played within its division. So if one division has four Super Bowl contenders, and they all go 3-3 against each other, and another has the two worst teams in the league, and the top two squads go 5-1 in the division, that’s a huge built-in advantage. This is why comparing the NFL to the NBA – which does not reward division winners in the playoffs – is flawed. NBA teams don’t play their divisional foes any more often than they do teams from the rest of the conference, so divisional record means little.
Still, the divisional disparities in the NFL are glaring this year because, among the Seahawks, 49ers, Packers (10-3), Vikings (9-4) and Rams (8-5), one will likely play a road playoff game against a team with a worse record, and another is going to miss the postseason entirely. But the world is all about tradeoffs, and this system is the fairest there is.
This wasn’t much of an issue from 2014-18, when the six winningest teams from each conference all made the playoffs. And no division winner since the Seahawks in 2010 has been under .500, and just one (Denver in 2011) was at .500.
Yes, the 12-4 Raiders lost to a 9-7 Texans team on the road in 2016, but this isn’t common. Besides, if you’re championship-worthy, you need to win these games.
The regular-season goal for all 32 teams is to win the division, anyway. There are only three other teams they are competing with for that crown, so there isn’t much room for complaining if they don’t. The more justifiable complaint would come from a division winner that was forced to play a tougher schedule than a wild-card team but still forced to travel for the playoffs.
Even so, if the Seahawks fail to beat the Niners in the final game of the season, they could be a 12-4 team that has to fly to play a sub-.500 foe.
“Do you have any thoughts on how the playoffs should be seeded?” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll was asked.
“Absolutely not. I have none. We just keep playing and see what happens,” Carroll said. “We love to play at home. That’s what we’re playing for, to get the opportunity to play here. We know how we play when we’re here that time of year. That’s everything to shoot for. Other than that, I don’t care, and I don’t know, really.”
This is typically how Carroll answers when it involves something beyond his control. But it’s really the only way to think about it. Win your division, get a home game. Don’t beat out those three other teams, and your travel plans are at another division winner’s mercy.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday that there were no plans to change how the playoffs are seeded. This is how it should be.
When Wright takes his job, though – that’s when things will get interesting.
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