The Seattle Seahawks upset the Saints in the wild-card round, for starters. The game featured nearly flawless quarterback play from Matt Hasselbeck and one of the most memorable touchdown runs in league history, regular season or otherwise. When Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch eluded or ran through eight potential tackles on his way to a 67-yard touchdown, he also trampled the notion, for now, that a 7-9 team had no business hosting a playoff game or appearing in the postseason at all.
“I think Seattle winning probably had an effect on people, yeah,” New York Giants owner John Mara said from the NFL owners meeting. “If there was any sentiment to change it, maybe there is not. But that is not even something we discussed at the competition committee this year. It never even came up.”
Mara was a voice for re-seeding even before his team missed the postseason with a 10-6 record this past season. Tampa Bay also missed the playoffs at 10-6. The Giants and Bucs defeated the Seahawks by a combined 79-23 margin this season, but the seeding system left them on the outside when playoff games kicked off in January.
“I’ve always felt that was something we ought to look at,” Mara said. “I still think if you win your division, you should be in the playoffs, but I personally believe the teams with the better records ought to have the home games. I don’t think I’m in the majority on that opinion.”
Indeed, the coaches, owners and executives I polled this week came down strongly against any system sending a division champion on the road to open the playoffs. They would rather endure what happened with Seattle than have their own teams head onto the road as division champions.
“We want to put an emphasis on winning your division,” Green Bay Packers president Mark Murphy said. “There’s still a strong feeling that if you win a division, you should get a home game. Our fans expect that and like that.”
The league has devalued division games in other ways over the past 30-plus years.
Thirty-five years ago, teams played as many as eight division games in a 14-game season, depending on how many teams were in a division.
“So, you won the division championship, you earned it,” McKay said. “Today, going to four-team divisions and a 16-game schedule, we’re at a little different place with respect to the number of division games versus the number of regular-season games. That is where the push came a couple years ago.”
Had a straight seeding system been in place for 2010, neither the Seahawks nor St. Louis Rams would have had anything on the line when they played in Week 17. Both would have been eliminated from the playoffs. Under a modified seeding system, the NFC West champion would have headed onto the road for the playoffs (it’s tough to say where, exactly, because some teams would have approached the final weeks differently, affecting records).
The existing system guaranteed a home playoff game for the winner of that Rams-Seahawks game.