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Quick Inside Slant: Week 15

Impressions of the 2014 NFL Season as perceived by a Creative Writing graduate student, part-time amateur stand-up comedian and collegiate intramural flag football legend.

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By: Dustin Fisher

This isn't the first time Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints have been involved in a controversy involving a team with a losing record hosting a playoff game.

This isn’t the first time Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints have been involved in a controversy involving a team with a losing record hosting a playoff game.

Every couple years around this time, a bunch of haters complain about how some teams don’t deserve to be in the playoffs because they’re terrible or whatever. Some offer suggestions of ways to “fix” this “problem,” but most just want to throw rocks at a barn because it’s there. Because of how ridiculous the entire NFC South is this season, that conversation is happening again. A team with as many as eight or as few as six wins will host a playoff game. And if the Saints beat the Falcons and the Panthers lose to the Browns this weekend, the Saints, with a dominant 7-8 record, could rest their starters in Week 17 with the division already in hand. Yes, I’ll admit with the rest of the haters that it is ridiculous. And I do enjoy the jokes about if they had any integrity, they’d give their spot to the AFC North. But there are real people – some of whom speak on NFL Live, the Honey Boo-Boo of sports analysis television – who really believe and tell the very impressionable haters who listen to them that the system is broken and needs to be changed.

Keep in mind, I say this as an Eagles fan, the team most likely to be sitting at home with 11 wins, watching a 7-9 team host a playoff game.

How Bad Are These Teams, Really?

Since the change to this playoff structure back in 2002, with the addition of the Texans making a rather tidy divisional alignment, three teams have won their division with a non-winning record, the 2008 Chargers, the 2011 Broncos, and the 2010 Seahawks – who actually had a losing season. Each one of these teams hosted a playoff game against a team who had four more wins than they did. And each one of them won their game – one of them with Tim Tebow, which I occasionally wake up in the middle of the night assuming it was all a dream. The haters claim that this makes their point for them. These historically horrible teams didn’t deserve to host a playoff game, and it is likely their undeserved home field advantage that won them that playoff game. Really? Well how good is that 12-4 team that they can’t beat a crappy .500 team on the road? It sounds like maybe they shouldn’t have been in the playoffs.

No More Realignment, Please

I was a big fan of the 2002 realignment and the cleanliness that came with it. All the divisions are now the same size, the schedule rotation is transparent, and you have to win your division to host a playoff game. It’s so pretty. Like the NCAA bracket was before they added a 65th team back in 2001. Before 2002, there were divisions of five and six, giving some teams a 20% chance to win their division and some teams a 16.7% chance to win it. Does that seem more fair? And just look at how much better these eight divisions of four looks on a poster or website, not to mention the scheduling objectivity. Going back to three divisions would be willful chaos, especially if it is only to prevent losing teams from making it to the playoffs, which, so far, has only happened ONE TIME EVER. You want to get to the playoffs? Maybe you shouldn’t have lost those two home games to Seattle and Dallas on back-to-back weeks. Sure, they’re two of the best teams in the NFL, but that’s who makes it to playoffs. And even with three divisions, there will still be teams with worse records winning divisions and hosting teams with better records. Where does it all stop? Should we just have no divisions? Just fart in the face of any kind of structure and have one 32-team division? And maybe we can just have one long 31-game season that lasts two years, that way we can definitely get the right 12 teams in the playoffs. Or maybe everybody makes the playoffs like my flag football league, completely belittling every regular season game.

OK, but Don’t Give Them a Home Game

The one argument I’ve heard that I don’t hate is that these division winners with bad records have earned their ticket to the playoffs, but they shouldn’t get a home game. So the six in each conference get in and are reseeded according to their overall records. My problem is that this diminishes the importance of actually winning a division. It’s not like these divisions suck every year. The NFC West was the laughing stock of the league not so long ago, and now they’re almost an automatic to have two 11-win teams in the playoffs every year. The NFC South will bounce back. Any changes to the playoff system would be an overcorrection and we all know what pendulums do when they swing too far one way. Again, I don’t hate it, but just let the damn division winners have their home playoff game. You want that home playoff game, go win your division. You’re still allowed to do that.

A Puncher’s Chance

A friend of mine who runs the Words with Nerds podcast made the comment that playoffs should be for winning teams because every team has a puncher’s chance once they get into the playoffs. Good argument, but again, where do we draw the line? At 8-8? That will seem pretty arbitrary when a 9-7 team sneaks into the playoffs and goes on to accidentally beat a 13-3 team in the Superbowl, (Giants vs. Patriots, circa 2011). And then we’re back to the argument of having no division winners, just in case one might have a worse record than another non-division winning team. We either need to go all the way down the rabbit hole or just stay out of it.

And We’re Back

The divisional structure in the NFL is perfect right now. So a losing team will get into the playoffs once or twice in 12 years. We can get through this, America. This happens every year in the NBA. And don’t people think it’s awesome when a #8 seed beats a #1 seed in the NHL every year? I’m pretty sure we do. Let’s just leave the thread alone before the whole sweater comes apart.

Dustin Fisher is a writer, comedian, storyteller, and stay-at-home dad. Follow along with his dad blog at http://daddyneedsanap.com/ or buy his first book, Daddy Issues.

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Dustin Fisher is an amateur standup comedian, storyteller, freelance writer, and stay-at-home dad, all of which are just better ways of saying “unemployed.” He worked in the area of collegiate recreation for the previous 14 years at UMBC, Miami University and the University of Baltimore. There, he became somewhat of a folk legend on the flag football field and actually got paid to play fantasy football. Dustin is currently in the MFA program at the University of Baltimore seeking a Masters degree in Creative Writing. He has made contributions to various publications including The Good Men Project and the Baltimore Fishbowl. For more about Dustin, check out his stay-at-home dad website, Daddy Needs a Nap. Dustin lives with his wife and daughter in New Carrollton, MD in a house surrounded by too many trees to get the Dish Network.

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