GLENDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 29: Quarterback Troy Smith #1 of the San Francisco 49ers dives for a first down against the Arizona Cardinals during the first quarter of the NFL game at the University of Phoenix Stadium on November 29, 2010 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Troy Smith
We’re getting towards the end of the year, and already the hand-wringing has begun over the fetid cesspool that is the NFC West. A playoff team is going to come out of this division, and many people aren’t happy about it. And why should they be? The division lacks a team with a record .500 or better, and that doesn’t even begin to hint at how awful it is.
Every single team in the division has been outscored in total points. Only two teams (CAR and MIA) have scored fewer touchdowns than the four teams in the NFC West. Take away division wins and the division has a total of just ten wins amongst its four teams. And none them appear to be improving, unless you count the “red hot”49ers, who have won three of five (the only team of the bunch to have a winning record over that stretch). It’s a horrible, awful division. A blight on the landscape. If it were a horse, it would be forbidden from breeding.
There is scant hope that one of these teams will finish above .500. The 49ers still have Green Bay and San Diego (an actual hot team) left on the schedule. The Rams still have Kansas City and New Orleans. The Seahawks still have to face Atlanta and Tampa Bay. In between, all these teams will play each other. There’s no way any of them get to nine wins. Eight wins would be a minor triumph.
So what do we do if one or more of these teams finishes 7-9 and takes a playoff spot away from a deserving team like Tampa Bay or Green Bay? Many will tell you that the NFL should just redo its playoff format and seed team by record, regardless of division. You and I both know that won’t happen under Roger Goodell’s watch. The only realistic solution will be to expand the playoff field to include one or two more wild card teams, a system that would include worthy teams but do nothing to exclude clearly unworthy ones, and would likely add more crummy teams to the mix.
I think what will ultimately happen as a result of this, and what should happen, is NOTHING. If you’d like to see a truly flawed postseason model put into action, I urge you to go consult college football. The NFL’s playoff seeding may allow for occasional blights, like the NFC West champ this year. But overall, it still has the perfect balance of teams. Not too many. Not too few. If that means seeing the Seahawks get in this year, so be it.
Divisions and conferences are cyclical. For years, NBA fans railed against the weakness of the Eastern Conference, pleading with David Stern to scrap conference affiliations when seedings the playoffs. But Stern ignored that idea, because he’s David Stern and he’s very mean, and because he knew the East would eventually right itself. The NFC West stinks, but it won’t always stink. In fact, with Sam Bradford, the Rams are clearly on the rise, and could easily be a worthwhile playoff team a year from now. And by the time we’ve corrected the playoff format to account for the NFC West, the NFC West will have ceased being the problem.
So you’ll have to grin and bear it this year. You’ll watch the Rams get crushed at home by the likes of New Orleans and then go about your business. It won’t be the end of the world. Sometimes you get a dud. And no realistic playoff solution is gonna prevent it.