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If Divisions Are A Thing, Playoff Structure Shouldn't Change

The argument comes up every so often -- a division winner gets to host a wild-card team with a better record. People get upset. A restructuring of the playoff system is, if not demanded, strongly encouraged. We're headed that way again this season, when the NFC East winner -- be it the Eagles or Cowboys -- could go 7-9 and still host a team with as gaudy of a record as 13-3. I grant, the optics aren't good.

But to me, if you are going to keep the divisions in the first place, then keep it the way it is. Otherwise, just dispense with it all and have everyone in each conference grouped together. There is so much talk about if a poor division winner should be at home and little talk about how the schedules are inherently unbalanced as it is. An NFC West team is playing a much different schedule than, say, the NFC South.

The Cardinals have been on both sides of this. In 2008, the 9-7 Cardinals won their division, got beat up as the worst playoff team ever (and soon after, there was a rash of sub-.500 playoff teams, so, yeah) and still got to host the 11-5 Falcons in the first round. Better yet, the next round underscored the brutal truth -- you still have to win these playoff games at home -- when the Cards hammered the Panthers in Carolina and the Eagles knocked off the Giants in New York, allowing that "terrible" playoff team to host the NFC Championship.

Then, in 2014, the 11-5 wild card Cardinals had to travel to Carolina to play the NFC South champion Panthers despite Carolina's 7-8-1 record. Of course, the Cards were a shell of an 11-5 team by the time they got there, injuries reducing the starting quarterback to Ryan Lindley and starting running back to Marion Grice. They lost on the road in an ugly game in the rain (although, given the teams, it would've been ugly regardless.)

I completely understand the idea that the team with the better record feeling shortchanged by having to travel to a team with a lesser record. There is an easy solution. Win the division.

Cardinals quarterback Ryan Lindley loses the ball as he is hit by the Panthers during a playoff game in the 2014 season.
Cardinals quarterback Ryan Lindley loses the ball as he is hit by the Panthers during a playoff game in the 2014 season.