Wild-card weekend reveals flaw in NFL playoff format

Eric McErlain Sports Blogger
Font Size:

The game-winning touchdown pass from Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow to wide receiver Demaryius Thomas that ended the wild-card playoff game with the Pittsburgh Steelers yesterday will probably go down as one of the more memorable plays in NFL history.

There’s little doubt that ESPN and the NFL Network will have the play on an endless video loop between today and next weekend, when the Broncos travel to Foxboro to play the Patriots in the second round of the NFL playoffs.

Too bad it should have never happened. The same goes for the New York Giants, who defeated the visiting Atlanta Falcons on Sunday afternoon, 24-2, in front of a home crowd at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. By all rights, the Giants should have been forced to play a playoff game on the road in New Orleans.

Why do I say that? Because both the Broncos (8-8) and the Giants (9-7) were allowed to host playoff games despite the fact that they had worse regular-season records than the teams that they were matched against (Pittsburgh was 12-4; Atlanta, 10-6). That’s thanks to the fact that the NFL awards home-field advantage to division winners in the first round of the playoffs, this despite the fact that wild-card qualifiers often finish the regular season with better records.

So what’s the solution? When it comes to the first round of the playoffs, you should seed the match-ups based on which teams finished with the best regular-season record regardless of whether or not they won their division. In that case, the Steelers would have hosted the Broncos in Pittsburgh. The game between the Texans (10-6) and the Bengals (9-7) would have remained the same. Meanwhile in the NFC, the New Orleans Saints (13-3) would have hosted the Giants (9-7), while the Falcons (10-6) would have hosted the Lions (10-6).

Would these changes have made much of a difference? My guess is yes, and they would have been a heck of a lot more fair given the rigors of the NFL season. Here’s hoping the owners spend some time thinking it over this offseason.

Eric McErlain blogs at Off Wing Opinion, a Forbes “Best of the Web” winner. In 2006 he wrote a “bloggers bill of rights” to help  integrate bloggers into the Washington Capitals’ press box. Eric has also written for Deadspin, NBC Sports and the Sporting News, and covers sports television for The TV News. Follow Eric on Twitter.