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Cook: The case for prohibiting sub-.500 teams from the playoffs

| Friday, November 6, 2020

After eight weeks of NFL football, it is quite apparent to any football fan that the NFC East is the worst division in football. The Philadelphia Eagles have fallen backwards into first place with a record of 3-4-1, and with the rest of the division in shambles, it appears as if the Eagles will be playoff bound.

The Washington Football Team somehow find themselves in second place at 2-5 and are starting former undrafted free agent Kyle Allen at quarterback. The Cowboys and Giants makeup the bottom half of the division, but their seasons affectively ended when Dak Prescott and Saquon Barkley got injured, respectively.

Both Philadelphia and Washington have a bye in week nine, neatly splitting their seasons perfectly in half before they play the second half of their schedule. These two teams will play each other in week 17, which could potentially be the NFC East championship game. Looking ahead to the Eagles’ schedule they will likely be 5-9-1 heading into the matchup, with wins over the Giants and Cowboys, but losses to the Browns, Seahawks, Packers, Saints, and Cardinals. The Football Team would have to win four of their last eight games to make this week 17 game competitive, which is possible if they were to beat the Giants, Bengals, Cowboys, and 49ers or Lions. However, this seems unlikely and the Eagles will probably claim the division.

Regardless, the winner of the NFC East will be well under .500 heading into the playoffs. This will mark the first time since 2014 that a team with a losing record could make the playoffs, and only the third time that a sub-.500 team will qualify for the postseason in a full 16-game season. The 7-9 Seattle Seahawks won the NFC West in 2010 and the 7-8-1 Carolina Panthers won the NFC South in 2014.

With the expanded playoff format being introduced this season, seven teams from each conference will make the playoffs. This decreases the likelihood that a more deserving team will miss the playoffs, but with the depth of the NFC, there is still a chance that this could happen. As of now, the Chicago Bears and Los Angeles Rams are in the danger zone. Both teams sit at 5-3, so one of them, or whoever finds themselves in this position at the end of the regular season, will lose their playoff spot to the sub-.500 NFC East champion.

This brings up an important point: Should a division champion get an automatic playoff berth? If not, division titles would become meaningless and, therefore, most fans would probably oppose this suggestion. Division rivalries have given us some of the best games of the season already this year, such as Steelers-Ravens, Cardinals-Seahawks, Chiefs-Raiders, and so on.

However, I would argue that the sample size is so small in this case that altering the rule would have very little effect. As mentioned above, only two teams with a record below .500 have made the playoffs in a full, 16-game season. Adding the simple requirement that a division winner must be over .500 to qualify for postseason play would be a rule that would come into effect very rarely. But it would prevent bad teams from taking playoff spots from better, deserving teams during the few seasons that a division winner has a poor record.

With a sub-.500 team set to make the playoffs for the third time in the last decade, something must be done to prevent bad teams from reaching the postseason. Please don’t take this personally, Eagles fans, but your team does not deserve to make the playoffs this year.

The Rams and Bears are far superior football teams, which is saying something. To see them miss out on the postseason, especially in a year where the playoff field is expanded, would be a travesty. It is time to fix the rule. Unfortunately, Roger Goodell and progress don’t mix too well, so we could be waiting for a long time before a change is made.

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