With the NFL playoffs less than two weeks away and only a few playoffs spots truly up for grabs in Week 17, it seems that the debate over which teams should get it has reignited, mainly as a result of this week's Sunday Night Football match up featuring two sub-.500 teams with a home playoff game on the line.
The 2010 edition of the NFC West division may not be the home to the year's best football, but it has shaped up to be the most competitive division this season, with three teams all in the hunt for the division crown until the 49ers loss in Week 16. Granted, that doesn't mean any of these teams are playing great football -- or even "winning football" for that matter -- but that's no reason to lobby for playoff restructuring or even division restructuring.
First of all, for those who say the NFC West is watered down and doesn't provide strong competition to the rest of the NFL, even if their junior varsity skill level does translate throughout the four teams in the division, this is clearly an aberration and not the norm. In the NFL over the last ten years, only two divisions have sent three different teams to a Super Bowl. One of them in the NFC South ('02 Buccaneers, '03 Panthers, '09 Saints) and the other is the NFC West ('01 Rams, '05 Seahawks, '08 Cardinals). So not only have three of the teams in the NFC West been to a Super Bowl recently, but the fourth team in that division is once-mighty San Francisco which, despite a rough patch in recent years, is one of the most successful franchises in NFL history. The potential for strong competition exists in that division, so please don't think blowing it up is the right call.
Furthermore, if you win your division, you should get a home playoff game. Period.
If the Falcons end up 13-3 and win the NFC South this season while the Saints finish 12-4, then you know what, the Saints should have beaten Atlanta when they had the chance at home in New Orleans back in September. The Saints and Falcons have 12 common opponents this season plus two head-to-head games. NFL schedules are set up to provide an equal challenge among division teams. Whichever team handles that schedule the best wins the division and should be properly rewarded by hosting a playoff game.
Wasn't it just two years ago we were having this same debate about how good a 9-7 NFC West Champion Arizona Cardinals team really was, and they went all the way to the Super Bowl. If you're good enough to win you're division, you belong in the playoffs. Teams in other divisions might have not had to face as challenging a schedule as teams from another division.
The NFL playoffs are set up just fine. And if a 7-9 Seattle ends up hosting a 12-4 New Orleans Saints, then they better pack warm clothes. If 8-8 St. Louis hosts a team with a better record in the first round, they earned that right. It's not something that can be altered based on one or two fluky seasons.