Once again, the NFL sees a division “champion” with a losing record secure a home-field playoff game, when better and more-deserving teams must go on the road in the postseason opener. This is the fourth time it’s happened in the last decade-plus, and it’s a little embarrassing, to be honest. The NBA has done the right thing in eliminating division-champion preferences in seeding conference playoffs, and it’s time for the NFL to follow suit.

To be clear, we don’t have an issue with a losing team making the playoffs itself (although maybe we should). That’s a discussion to have, for sure, if we’re eliminating division-title preference in postseason seedings. After all, why should a crap team from a crap division make the postseason ahead of a team with a winning record? It really shouldn’t, as not all records are created equally due to extremely uneven scheduling.

And it’s definitely happening to the NFL this year, with the 8-9 Tampa Bay Buccaneers making the postseason instead of the 9-8 Seattle Seahawks (or the 9-8 Detroit Lions, pending the outcome tonight’s final regular-season game). If the NFL followed the NBA model, too, it could still give the Bucs a chance as a division winner with a losing record by adding another round of playoffs, like the NBA has done with its “play-in” model for the teams that finish seventh through tenth in each conference.

Imagine the NFL doing that this year, as the below information illustrates:

AFC: No. 7 Miami hosts No. 10 New York Jets, and No. 8 Pittsburgh hosts No. 9 New England
NFC: No. 7 Detroit/Seattle hosts No. 10 Green Bay/Detroit, and No. 8 Washington hosts No. 9 Tampa Bay

  • Tampa Bay would drop into the No. 9 spot with its 8-9 record, behind Seattle and the Detroit/Green Bay victor.

The winners would then provide each conference with 8 “final” playoff teams, and the NFL could reduce that to a singular conference champ over another three weekends. The top six teams in each conference would get a bye week, and by permanently eliminating that silly week between the conference-championship matchups and the Super Bowl, the whole postseason would take place over a 5-week period—with more rest for the top teams that earned it, record wise.

This also would generate more revenue for the NFL, both in TV contracts and the extra playoff games at home stadiums of contending teams. It’s a win-win situation for everyone—except maybe the players, who risk more injury every time they step on the field. But that’s an occupational hazard for those who would be kings, so that’s not our primary concern here today. The key is to not giving a losing team any postseason advantage simply based on arbitrary grouping.

The NFL is not the most “modern” of leagues, anymore, as we have pointed out. But this is one step it should take immediately to keep moving forward through the twenty-first century.