Many critics have proposed taking the top six teams regardless of division winners and using the divisions simply for scheduling. Others are suggesting different reformatting techniques. The fact of the matter remains the NFL's current playoff format does not need any tweaking, adjustments or tune ups - even if it means a team like 8-8 San Diego gets to play at home while 11-5 New England sits at home.
The reasoning is simple.
With the 32 teams and the current alignment of eight four-team divisions, NFL schedule makers have a set rotating formula to determine which teams will play each other in a given year. Each division plays it's own division foes (six games), an intra-conference divisional slate (four games), an inter-conference divisional slate (four games), and two other games usually from within the conference. So when the AFC East (Bills, Dolphins, Jets, Patriots) is scheduled to play the NFC West and AFC West in 2008, they have an easier road than AFC North teams that played the NFC East and AFC South in 2008.
Some divisions just have tougher competition from year to year. Here's a breakdown of each division and their cumulative W-L-T records from 2008 to better illustrate my point.
Yes, the Cardinals finished 9-7 this season, but hidden in that 9-7 record is the fact that the Cardinals had to face two of the three toughest divisions in football (NFC South, AFC East). So while it's easy to see that the NFC West was very, very watered down this season, they had a tough time facing some of the NFL's top teams in 2008.
Rather than forbid a team like the Chargers to advance to the playoffs because they won a division at 8-8, perhaps that 8-8 records is really a testament to how good a team against that schedule can do. For the Patriots, going 11-5 might appear impressive, but they were gift-wrapped a schedule full of pigskin pansies in '08.
So anytime you hear someone talk about just how unfair it is that teams hovering at .500 make the playoffs while a 11-win team like New England or a 10-win team like the 2007 Browns miss the playoffs, consider the schedules those teams play before making a ridiculous argument that the best overall records should make the playoffs. If that were the case, then playoff participants would be decided more by schedule-makers than on the actual field.
All right, which division is playing the softest schedule this season? The AFC East. Okay, looks like they'll have three playoff teams this year while the NFC West winner will not be assured a post season berth.
The playoff format doesn't need any fixing. Just play the games, and you'll find that teams like the 8-8 Chargers and 9-7 Cardinals belong just as much as - if not more than - the 10 and 11-win teams that don't make the tournament.