This is a tough argument to make, because almost everyone has taken advantage of this at one point or another. The team that gets not only an automatic playoff berth, but home field/court advantage through the first round, in spite of its VERY mediocre record, only because they took advantage of an even-worse slate of divisional opponents.
Although, I wonder, has this team ever gone on to win it all? No one comes instantly to mind. There have certainly been a number of wild card teams who’ve gotten hot late and rode that wave to the promised land. But, what happens with that crappy division winner? Usually a first-round exit. Once in a while – like the Seahawks in 2010 – they win an exciting first round matchup before succumbing to their rightful fate. But, at this point, in 2022, it’s just silly.
It’s silly that the NFC South winner this year (currently Tampa leads with a 6-7 record) should be a 4-seed and host a first round game, while a team like Dallas or Minnesota (favorites for the 5th seed, currently with identical 10-3 records). That’s a 4-game difference! And Dallas has that record in spite of being in a division where all the teams are currently slated to make the playoffs!
It’s incredibly stupid that a 101-win Mets team should be a lower seeded team than a 93-win Cardinals team, just because they had the good fortune of being in a trash division. You could go on and on with these egregious examples.
Why do we have conferences and divisions? Well, because it’s always made more sense for teams – geographically speaking – to play the bulk of their games together. But, is that really necessary anymore? And is it worth the backlash of penalizing great teams and rewarding inferior teams in the post-season? Why is winning your terrible division more important than winning FOUR MORE NFL GAMES, against better opponents?
Also, who cares about all the travel? Major League Baseball is starting to make moves towards eliminating divisions and conferences. For the first time in the modern era, in 2023 every MLB team will play every other MLB team at least once. As a result, the number of divisional games will decrease from 19 games per opponent, down to 13 games. That’s not nothing. I say why stop there, though? Split it up evenly (or as evenly as possible) across the board, play every team the same number of games, and then take the top 12 teams regardless of “conference” or “division”. Give the top 4 teams first round BYEs, let the other 8 teams fight it out in a wild card round, and go from there.
It’s a little trickier with the NFL, given there are fewer games played than there are teams in the league. But, you could still set it up based on the previous year’s records; they have computers to figure this shit out!
I’m just saying, these teams fly in the lap of luxury. They’re already flying to other countries and whatnot; clearly if the money is there, these guys are going to roll with the punches. It just seems to me that conferences and divisions are antiquated notions from bygone eras.
You’ll hear critics lament the loss of rivalries, but who cares? The Packers and Bears supposedly have the greatest rivalry of all time, but when was the last time these two teams were relevant simultaneously? If one team is great and one team is shitty for 50 years, who cares that they play twice a year?
The Seahawks went from the AFC West to the NFC West in 2002, losing 25 years of history as a “rival” with the Raiders, Broncos, Chiefs, and Chargers. You know what happened? We got lumped in with the 49ers, Rams, and Cardinals and started all new rivalries!
If you want those old traditional rivalries to continue, then that can still happen. You both just have to play at the same-enough level to continue being scheduled against one another! Until then, tough titty for the team that’s vastly inferior; you need to earn the right to continue playing the team that stays great!
Who was the greatest rival of the Patriots for the majority of the Tom Brady era? I’ll give you a hint: it wasn’t the Bills, Jets, or Dolphins! It was the Colts and Broncos with Peyton Manning. It was the Ravens under John Harbaugh. It was the Steelers with Roethlisberger. Occasionally, it was the Chargers with Rivers. It was the GOOD teams of the AFC, and those teams – year in and year out – weren’t playing with them in the AFC East.
Of course, the easy fix is to just not reward the shitty division winners with home field/court advantages in the playoffs. But, I would also argue that a lot of these division winners have it too easy for too long. Speaking of those Patriots, how many times could they coast to the top seed because their division sucked? How many times recently have the Packers dominated simply because they lucked into the easiest schedule in football? It’s boring! Great teams sometimes only have a small handful of tough games per year, and the rest of the time they’re feasting on the dregs of their own division and conference.
Anyway, thank you for listening to my Hot Take TED Talk.