All right, let’s get a rundown of the NFC South, shall we?
Tampa Bay (2-9) is one of the worst teams in football and is in last place in the division, Carolina (3-7-1) has lost five straight games and hasn’t won since Week 5 against Chicago, and New Orleans (4-7) and Atlanta (4-7) are somehow tied for the division lead.
Yes, the division lead – even though the Saints have lost three straight games, all at home, and the Falcons started 2-6.
Given the strength of other divisions – the NFC East has a pair of 8-3 teams, the NFC West has three teams that are 7-4 or better, and the entire AFC North is 7-4 or better – does the NFC South winner deserve a playoff spot, especially if it finishes below .500?
“I’m all for the winner of the NFC South making the playoffs, and I don’t care if their record is 5-11,” Sports Illustrated senior writer and TheMMQB.com editor Peter King said on The Morning Show. “It’s a flukey thing. It’s an absolute aberration. Where I part ways with the current thinking is that I think it’s absolutely absurd that a team – just because it wins a four-team division, is guaranteed a playoff game. What’s going to happen this year – what very well could happen this year – is you could have a 12-win Wild Card team. Look at Dallas. Look at Philadelphia. Look at Green Bay. Look at Detroit. Look at the NFC West.”
Indeed, Seattle, San Francisco or any number of teams could win 10-12 games, or more, make the playoffs and then have to face the Saints in the Superdome in New Orleans. While the normally unbeatable-at-home Saints have lost three straight there, that’s still not a place where a team wants to play, especially in the playoffs.
“There could be the fifth seed in the NFC – a very good team – (that) could win 12 games and have to travel to face a team that’s won six or seven games in the NFC South,” King said. “And even if (the NFC South winner wins) eight games, I really don’t care. There shouldn’t be the right just because you win a division – and the carrot has always been held out on a stick, forever – that you automatically get a home game if you win the division. You shouldn’t just have that right.”
To King’s point, a sub-.500 division winner is an aberration, and strength of division – and conference – is cyclical. In 2010, for example, Seattle and St. Louis both finished atop the NFC West with a 7-9, with the Seahawks winning the tiebreaker. As you may recall, the Seahawks beat the Saints – the defending Super Bowl champions – in Seattle, 41-36, in the Wild Card round.
At the time, the NFC West was the laughingstock of the NFL. It is now, at worst, the second-best division in football.
“Make the playoffs?” King asked, referring to division winners. “Yes. Have an automatic home game? Absolutely not. The playoffs should be seeded in each conference based totally on the records – not based on (who) won a very weak and watered down division.”