Losers in the Playoffs?

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Does a 7-9 division winner deserve to make the playoffs?

Does a 7-9 division winner deserve to make the playoffs?

Does a 7-9 division winner deserve a playoff berth?

Yes

There is no reason to get fired up like Peter Carroll or panic like Mike Singletary just because a team with a losing record could end up as the champion of the NFC Worst, er, West division and earn a trip to the postseason.

The doomsday scenario has a sub-.500 Seahawks, Rams, 49ers or Cardinals club skating into the playoffs, while one or more winning teams — the Falcons, Eagles, Giants, Bears, Packers, Saints or Bucs — are left on the outside looking in once division champ automatic berths and Wild Card tickets are punched after Week 17.

But guess what? It’s never happened. Since the NFL expanded its regular season to 16 games in 1978, there has never been a team with a losing record in the playoffs.

There have, however, been nine 8–8 teams make it into the tournament. Those teams carry a 3–9 playoff record overall, with all three wins coming after the 2002 realignment resulted in eight divisions with four teams apiece.

Three of the last four 8–8 playoff teams — winners of supposedly “inferior” divisions — went on to win a playoff game against a “superior” team with a winning regular season record. In 2008, the 8–8 Chargers controversially made the playoffs ahead of the 11–5 Patriots and 9–7 Jets then proved their worth by upsetting the 12–4 Colts.

Lately, the split stats favor the .500 division champ against an overrated Wild Card. And is there really that much difference between a 7–9 team and one that is 8–8?

Each of the four teams in every division play 14 common opponents, with six division games and eight teams from two other divisions. It is the most logical, fair structure. Be they strong or weak, in America’s game all divisions are created equal. Like it or not, division champs certainly deserve to make the playoffs — regardless of their record.

– Nathan Rush

No

This season, we’re facing a very real, very unsettling possibility: Watching a sub-.500 Rams or Seahawks team host a playoff game, while a 10–6 or 11–5 team — say, the Packers — is sitting at home.

Such a possibility has existed for some time, but now that it’s on the cusp of becoming a reality, the time has come for the NFL to address it. The postseason tournament for the biggest sport in the world becomes a joke when a losing team takes a spot that rightfully belongs to a team with a significantly better record.

I understand the argument that we should reward division winners with a playoff berth. But we’re about to enter unprecedented territory. Never before in a full NFL season has a team with a losing record made the playoffs (the Browns and Lions snuck in at 4–5 after the strike-shortened 1982 season). In fact, since 1988, only six 8–8 teams have found their way into the playoffs. Conversely, since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule in 1978, only two 11–5 teams — the 1985 Broncos and the 2008 Patriots — have missed the postseason. Neither of those teams was deprived a spot by a loser, although the 8–8 Chargers did find their way into the 2008 playoffs as AFC West champs.

But here is what parity has wrought in 2010. The NFC West and AFC South are historically bad divisions. Winning a title in a division of misfits and losers is sort of like being crowned Miss Trailer Trash — it’s an accomplishment and all, but it ain’t going to get you into the Miss America Pageant, nor should it.

It’s time for some common sense — no team that fails to win even half of its games deserves a right to play for a championship. It’s simply unconscionable for a losing team to deprive a winner of a spot in the tournament. Now is the time to preserve the integrity of the NFL playoffs and make a .500 record the minimum standard for inclusion in the postseason.

– Rob Doster

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Does a 7-9 division winner deserve to make the playoffs?