By: Ethan Tyrrell, KCOU Sports
While it may currently be the most prestigious division in football, the NFC West was once better known as the NFC Worst. In 2010, before the arrival of Jim Harbaugh, Pete Carroll, Russell Wilson, and Colin Kaepernick, the division was a mess. After the dust settled in the final week of the regular season, the only team slightly standing was the Seattle Seahawks, who made the playoffs with a 7-9 record.
This is by far an exception to the playoff rule; in fact, it’s the only instance of a sub-500 team making it to the postseason. We might be in a similar situation now, though. The NFC South, home to quarterback royalty in Drew Brees and arguably the best tight end in the game in Jimmy Graham, would send a team with exactly a 500 record to the playoffs if the regular season ended today. At the top sits the “We won the Super Bowl a few years ago, didn’t we?” 4-4 Saints, followed by the “Weren’t we supposed to be great this season?” 3-5-1 Panthers, then the “Being on Hard Knocks apparently made us even worse” 2-6 Falcons, and finally the “At least our new uniforms look fly” 1-6 Buccaneers.
Let’s compare these wonderful records to some other divisions, shall we? The NFC West currently has three teams, the Arizona Cardinals, the Seattle Seahawks, and the San Francisco 49ers, that could win the NFC South. The same can be said for the AFC West and the AFC East. Shockingly, every team in the AFC North would win the NFC South. Even the Browns are above .500.
While it serves as a good laugh that a mediocre team makes the playoffs, it also highlights a sad reality in the league. To go back to the NFC West, there are currently three teams in playoff contention. It is highly unlikely that both wild card teams will come from one division. If this division were to continue to play out as it does, there will likely be three teams with ten or more wins. This means that an 8-8 or worse Saints team could make the playoffs and a 10-6 San Francisco could not.
What makes this situation worse is that there is no solution to the problem. The NFL playoff system works. It makes each week competitive. It makes division games matter. The NFL playoffs run a tight wire where they allow a high enough number of playoff teams that it isn’t MLB-stingy, but are restrictive enough that it doesn’t allow over half of the league like the NBA. It’s unfortunate that mediocre teams can get in if they’re in a bad enough division, but the instances are too few and far between to justify a change in the system.
Unless the Saints can start winning often, the winner of the NFC South will have a worse record than several teams that miss the playoffs. If the winner is 8-8 or worse, at least we’ll all have something to laugh at.