Seahawks anomaly is no reason to change playoff format

Published on January 4, 2011 by     T.C.

Stop the hysteria, please.

The NFL isn’t going to crumble just because a team with a 7-9 record made the playoffs. The postseason hasn’t been diluted or tainted or compromised in any way.

The Seattle Seahawks might have more warts than any other division champion — or wild-card entry for that matter — but to view their presence in the tournament as some sort of travesty because a couple of other NFC teams that won 10 games (the New York Giants and Tampa Bay Buccaneers) will be playoff spectators is silly.

Even sillier would be tinkering with the playoff system to prevent any further inequity. Setting a 10-win minimum to qualify for the postseason — as I’ve heard suggested in some circles — is downright ludicrous. You win your division, regardless of your record, and you’re in. Period.

That also should apply to the discussion about possibly reseeding the playoff field in the future so that, at the very least, teams that stumble in with 7-9 or 8-8 records wouldn’t host first-round games, as the Seahawks will when they face the 11-5 New Orleans Saints on Saturday. Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay, a member of the NFL’s competition committee, is on record as saying he supports that idea. Commissioner Roger Goodell says it will be considered, as it has in the past.

I, for one, hope that club owners continue to reject it.

Adjusting the format because of an odd-ball occurrence where one division failed to produce a team with a winning record would be an overreaction. A division title is still a division title. Why label it as something less than authentic because it was achieved with fewer victories than other division titles? Why shouldn’t the Seahawks enjoy the reward of another home game for doing the same thing to earn it as any other division winner?

And make no mistake. The Seahawks did earn it.

In the very last game of the regular season, they met a challenge that they weren’t supposed to be able to meet because of a three-game losing streak (through which they were outscored 112-54) and losses in seven of their previous nine games. Not to mention the fact they were without injured Matt Hasselbeck and were facing a St. Louis Rams team Sunday night that looked stronger (whatever that means in the NFC West).

I’m not saying that I think the Seahawks are on the launching pad of a Super Bowl run. I fully expect them to lose to the Saints. But I also fully expected them to lose to the Rams (and we’d be talking about the injustice of an 8-8 division winner hosting a first-round contest).

Remember what a lot of us were saying about the 2008 Arizona Cardinals after they won the NFC West with a 9-7 record? Remember how foolish we all felt after they caught fire in January and pushed the Pittsburgh Steelers to the brink in Super Bowl XLIII?

Stuff like that happens, and it could very well happen again. It’s part of the unpredictability that makes the NFL so compelling to watch. The Cardinals were a great story, not just in Arizona but throughout the country. The Seahawks could become another.

Their story already is pretty good, starting with Pete Carroll’s return for a third head-coaching stint in the NFL and all of that energy he exudes while pacing up and down the sideline and high-fiving everyone in his path. The Seahawks have made a dizzying number of changes to their roster. Their once-promising, 4-2 start has been buried under the avalanche of a 3-7 finish that included a lot of games in which they didn’t look all that competitive.

Yet, Seahawk fans — recognized for fulfilling the 12th-man role better than most NFL crowds — made the sort of deafening noise at Qwest Field on Sunday night that strongly indicated they weren’t ready for their team to pack up for the offseason. They certainly gave Sam Bradford an eye-widening experience he’ll never forget, while helping to thwart his efforts to punctuate a rookie-of-the-year season with a defining win.

And for that, they deserve to celebrate a division championship … and everything, including a first-round home game, that goes with it.

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