On paper, the NFL’s current arrangement of teams looks good, symmetrical. Two conferences. Four divisions per conference. Four teams per division.
But there’s a problem with this structure. The NFL guarantees the best of every quartet of predetermined teams a playoff spot and, even worse, a home game.
From time to time, complaints have been raised about the unfair outcome that arises when the fifth seed in the conference has a better record than the fourth seed, but then has to play a wild-card game in the fourth seed’s stadium. It happened most notably in 2010, when the 7-9 Seahawks won the NFC West and faced the 11-5 Saints in Seattle.
When the Seahawks beat the Saints, some said that the outcome proved the Seahawks were the better team. And that’s nonsense. If Seattle had been required to play in New Orleans, the Saints would have won the game, perhaps in a blowout.
The league continues to resist the idea of reseeding, because the league places excessive significance on winning a division. Owners aren’t inclined to change that, in part because they individually and collectively like the idea of having a one-in-four chance, each and every year, to host a playoff game.
This year, someone from the NFC East will host a playoff game, even if none deserve to do so. And with plenty of great teams potentially landing in the No. 5 seed (the Bears or Packers, Bucs or Saints, Seahawks or Rams or 49ers or Cardinals), one of them will have to launch a preseason run by playing on the road against the 2-4 Cowboys, the 1-4-1 Eagles, the 1-5 Giants, or 1-5 Washington.
If the NFL is determined to continue to reward division champions with home playoff games, here’s a possibility: Revert to three divisions per conference. Name them East, Central, and West, as it was before 2002.
Yes, one division per conference would have six teams. But that would leave four divisions with a pre-existing expansion slot for up to four more teams.
And that would be the best long-term arrangement. Six divisions. Six teams per division. Three division champions and four (eventually five) wild cards.
We’ve added a proposed reconfiguration of divisions after the jump. Check it out, and then add a comment explaining why you think the idea is stupid.
AFC East: Patriots, Jets, Dolphins, Bills, Ravens, Jaguars.
AFC Central: Browns, Bengals, Colts, Steelers, Titans.
AFC West: Broncos, Chargers, Raiders, Texans, Chiefs.
NFC East: Washington, Giants, Eagles, Buccaneers, Panthers, Falcons.
NFC Central: Packers, Bears, Lions, Vikings, Saints.
NFC West: Rams, 49ers, Cardinals, Seahawks, Cowboys.