On the same day Commissioner Roger Goodell threw cold water on the idea of seeding the six playoff teams without regard to whether a team has won its division, Broncos coach Vic Fangio took it a big step farther: Get rid of divisions completely.
“Since the league went to 32 teams, which was when the Texans came in in 2002, my ideal suggestion, which has never been put forth in front of anybody important — I don’t think there should be divisions,” Fangio told reporters on Wednesday. “I think you’ve got 16 in each conference. Everybody should play each other once. That’s 15 games. Then if you want a 16th game, you play a natural rival from the other conference — Jets and Giants play every year, Eagles-Steelers, Texans-Cowboys, etc. — play every year. . . . [Y]ou’ll avoid the problem that’s going to happen this year where probably an 8-8 team is hosting a 12-4 team. You’re going to get the six best teams in each conference. The divisions always float. There are some that are easy some years, some that have a bunch of good teams, that switches back and forth every couple years. I just think that’d be a good way to avoid it.”
It’s a simple, sensible, and equitable approach. Fifteen games per year against the other teams in each conference, and one interconference game.
“I just don’t think divisions are going to get you the best six every year,” Fangio said. “You want the best six? Do it like they do in college. . . . [Y]ou play everybody once.”
This would take away the home-and-home series that often make divisional play compelling, especially late in the season when one team is playing for something and its division rival isn’t. Also, the reduction from four interconference games per year to one would result in some teams rarely if ever playing other teams, especially if the interconference games would be tied annually to a natural rival.
The better approach would be to schedule the interconference game based on where the teams finished the prior season. First place would play first place, second would play second, and so on until the worst two teams in each conference square off. Even then, it would be only one interconference game per year.
Fangio was asked whether he’d like the media to push his idea.
“Are you getting the hint?” he said, laughing. “Do you like my idea? . . . [L]et’s solve the next problem and play everybody once. Let’s get the top six teams in there.”
It definitely would produce a much more pure and fair ranking of the best teams in each conference, which the NFL should want. But it seems like too much of a dramatic change to ever get any real traction.
Indeed, if owners won’t even entertain the idea of seeding playoff teams based on record without giving inferior division champions a home game, they’d never remove the subcategories in each conference.
Then again, they did it once before. After the 1982 strike, which trimmed the regular season from 16 to nine games, the NFL used a 16-team Super Bowl tournament, with eight of 14 teams in each conference qualifying.
Even if nothing comes of this (and nothing surely will come of it), Fangio’s idea represents the kind of creative, proactive thinking that happens all too infrequently within the NFL, which tends to embrace changes slowly, reluctantly, and often only when required in response to an embrassing outcome.