The Green Bay Packers 33-7 week 17 victory over the Arizona Cardinals put the NFL’s flaws in clear view.
The game was meaningless. Everyone knew that after the Minnesota Vikings beat the New York Giants in an early game, which guaranteed the Cardinals could not move up in the playoff seeding.
So what did the Cardinals do? They pulled quarterback Kurt Warner in the second quarter, down 14 points, essentially conceding the game to the Packers. For the Packers, that was all well and good. For the Cardinals, it ensured the man who ultimately will take the team as far as it’s going to go this season didn’t get hurt.
But here’s the rub.
Both the Packers and Cardinals came into the game with 10-5 records. After mauling the Cardinals on Sunday, the Packers have a better overall record, plus a head-to-head victory, but they’ll still travel to Arizona to face the Cardinals in the first round of the playoffs.
Well, the Cardinals won their shitty division and on the NFL’s watch, a division winner will always get home field advantage in the playoffs versus a wild card team. It doesn’t matter if the wild card team has a better record or a head-to-head win. Essentially, the NFL doesn’t care who the better team is.
Of course, this isn’t the first time something like this has happened. Just last season, the 8-8 San Diego Chargers, who beat out the equally-craptacular 8-8 Denver Broncos to win the AFC West, hosted the 12-4 Indianapolis Colts in the first round of the playoffs. The Colts were second in the AFC South to the 13-3 Tennessee Titans, but were the fifth seed in the playoffs.
The Chargers, as the fourth seed, beat the Colts and went on to face the Pittsburgh Steelers, the second seed. The first-seeded Titans faced the sixth-seeded Baltimore Ravens, who were 11-5. Of course, Pittsburgh beat Baltimore to win the AFC.
The NFL’s playoff seeding rules were made before the league expanded to 32 teams and broken up in divisions of four teams. When the rules were instituted, the NFL had stronger five-team divisions, which made it unlikely there would be a weak division each year. That’s not the case today.
Reseeding would also go a long way toward fixing the problem with Week 17. Let’s face it: the final week of the regular season is barely better than the third week of the preseason. But with more playoff seeds on the line, fewer teams would be in a position to rest players… the Cardinals would have been forced to play hard against the Packers this past Sunday.
The NFL has a real problem on its hands. More than a handful of the last two week’s games have featured players who don’t belong on the field. That’s utter bullshit for both the fans and the teams that are still trying.
What’s more, the playoff seeding system doesn’t always reward the better team. Are the Packers a better team than the Cardinals? They’ve proven it by winning more games and by beating Arizona, but they’ll still have to travel to the desert again this week because the Cardinals had nothing to worry about on Sunday.