The NFL has shown, time and again, a resistance to making proactive changes. Instead, most big adjustments come as a reaction to a crisis, like the outcome of the Rams-Saints NFC Championship game.
And so it’s no surprise that the NFL will continue to resist sound arguments for changing the postseason seeding process, which guarantees every division champion a home game.
Per Adam Schefter of ESPN, the issue has emerged in past years, but the possibility of stripping a division winner of an automatic home game has “gotten zero steam,” and that “[i]t’s never been a consideration.”
As a source with knowledge of past dynamics during ownership meetings has explained it to PFT, the idea has been proposed “a number of times” and debated “a few times,” but it “never got much traction.”
“For some reason, the owners felt strongly that it was important to make division winning meaningful and one way was to give them a home game,” our source said.
Per the source, it seemed owners feared that stripping division champions of an automatic home game and giving it to the fifth (and, possibly, sixth) seed could be the first step toward conference-wide seeding. In a year like this one (with both the 49ers and Seahawks among the best teams in the NFC) that could result in the top two seeds coming from the same division — and it could result in a division champion being shut out of the playoff process entirely.
Owners also have concern that late-season games could draw less interest, since a division title would not mean as much if it didn’t carry with it a home game in the playoffs.
Business issues also apply, as they always do. It pays to host a playoff game, and doing so provides an excellent platform for marketing season tickets in the next year.
Thus, even though the NFL is the ultimate meritocracy in many respects, not-so-subtle socialist tendencies (like revenue sharing) extend to playoff positioning, with all teams in any given year having a one-in-four chance in every given year of hosting a playoff game, no matter how good or (in the NFC East this season) how bad the four teams are.
And if it didn’t change after the 7-9 Seahawks hosted (and bested) the 11-5 Saints in 2010, it won’t change if the 8-8 or 7-9 NFC East champions host the 13-3 or 12-4 49ers or Seahawks in 2019. The NFL wouldn’t be required to react to the current format unless and until a team wins a division with a record in the range of 4-12 or 5-11, which is theoretically possible but incredibly unlikely.