It’s difficult to imagine how frustrated the Philadelphia Eagles were when they discovered their golden run to the postseason was sabotaged due to the NFL’s complex tiebreaker system.
For the 2014 Philadelphia Eagles, they were not as together as they appeared on paper, especially at the brink of the season when they sat atop of the NFC East at 9-3. Instead of qualifying for the playoffs like many sports analysts predicted and potentially bullying around other contenders within the NFC for the conference championship, the Philadelphia Eagles unfortunately spent their postseason evenings sitting helplessly from afar at 10-6 watching their opponents square off against one another from their television set.
The Eagles quickly lost control of the division in a three-game skid when the squad fell mightily to the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks and their divisional rivals, the Washington Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys, in which the latter became the undisputed division champions at 12-4. As a result, the Eagles were unable to facilitate their 10-6 record in 2013 and became only the fifth team in a span of four years to miss the playoffs with a winning record above .500.
Perhaps it was a sign the Eagles were not ready to take the next great leap under second-year head coach, Chip Kelly. Perhaps it was the longevity of incumbent signal-caller, Mark Sanchez who served as the team’s substitute after starting quarterback, Nick Foles, sustained a broken collarbone in a win against the Houston Texansfurther illustrating the Eagles’ instability at the position.
There were plenty of factors that led to the Eagles respectively bittersweet season. Some in which could have been preventable while others were simply out of reach for the hapless birds. What was even more disheartening for the proud franchise was the dismal NFC South, whose division champion pathetically managed to qualify for the postseason with a record below .500. Ranked one of the worst divisions in the NFL at the time, the [pullquote]NFC South crowned the Carolina Panthers its division winner, posting a laughable 7-8-1 record after the New Orleans Saints and the Atlanta Falcons collapsed at 7-9 and 6-10.[/pullquote] While by no means a losing season by any loose definition of the term, the Eagles’ 10-6 record poises an alarming conundrum entering 2015 as the league further evaluates playoff expansion, which further begs the question – what rules and ramifications merit a team postseason warranty?
There was no question the Eagles were the best team not to qualify for the postseason in the 2014. They won more than eight games in the regular season like they did the previous year, they held a modest record against intra-conference opponents at 6-6, and accumulated more points than any of the playoff-caliber teams in the conference tallying over 474. The same can be applied to the 2010 Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New York Giants who were both shy of making the playoffs at 10-6 as the NFL granted the sub-.500 7-9 Seattle Seahawks by rule to qualify for the Wild Card round. The Seattle Seahawks were notorious for being the first team in NFL history to accomplish such a lowly feat as it was a feat that has been mocked and ridiculed for quite some time. With that being said, not only did both the Seahawks and the Panthers earn playoff [pullquote]2010 Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New York Giants who were both shy of making the playoffs at 10-6 as the NFL granted the sub-.500 7-9 Seattle Seahawks by rule to qualify for the Wild Card round.[/pullquote]berths, but by far the biggest slap to the face was the grim reality that due to courtesy of divisional rules, the two teams were permitted home games as the New Orleans Saints and Arizona Cardinals who held superior records at 11-5 were forced to visit the former in Seattle and Charlotte.
From the evidence alone, two languished teams have qualified for the postseason in a four-year gap and it is arguably safe to say that the Seahawks and the Panthers will not be the last to escape the cut-off date by the skin of their teeth. What is arguable is imploring the debate as to whether sub-.500 teams are worthy of playoff contention. It certainly appears that way with the lack of focus towards the matter as the NFL despite its goal of achieving the Lombardi trophy annually is more than less blindly adopting losing culture within its 32 conglomerates. Just from the aforementioned freak shows embossed in 2010 and 2014, the lack of candor, legitimacy, and ultimately fairness come to mind when examining the tiebreaker sequence and the overall layout of the playoff system.
The NFC West and the NFC South were dismissed as two of the worst divisions in the NFL in 2010 and 2014. In regards to the NFC West in 2010, the Seahawks placed 7-9, the St. Louis Rams finished 7-9, the San Francisco 49ers concluded 6-10, and the Arizona Cardinals plummeted 5-11. By Week 17 of the 2010, the Seahawks were officially confirmed as division champions when most divisions announce their winners for the playoffs around Weeks 10-15. Nevertheless, the NFL must make immediate wholesome changes in order to prevent such earth-shattering incompetency from continuing.
In a perfect world, if an entire division from what we have seen in the NFC West and South falls below .500 by the end of season, that division should be therefore be disqualified from playoff contention and furthermore, the playoff spot is given to the next best team in the conference hence the 2014 Philadelphia Eagles. While the NFL has sent lesser teams at 9-7 and 8-8 to the postseason, such as the 2011 New York Giants and the 2008 San Diego Chargers, the aforementioned still maintained a balanced level of winning. The 2010 Seattle Seahawks and the 2014 Carolina Panthers however were so undeserving of postseason qualification statistically that the poor marks themselves contradict the regulations of winning and organization in general.
In the NFL you play to win, and if a division made up of four or more professional football teams each can’t even muster a postseason berth with a winning record, then what do you have to prove or show for? It’s one thing to have a highly competitive conference in NFL made up of two or three addition 10-6 teams such as the 2012 Chicago Bears, for an example, who narrowly missed the playoffs due to a tight conference and divisional race. However, when the league encounters a weak division such as the underachieving NFC West and South in 2010 and 2014, it is necessary to make proper adjustments to ensure winning as opposed to following old school protocol and reward losers. Commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL board of directors must carefully address this issue without the slightest bit of greed or ineptitude because if the game continues to sail off course like it has over the previous four years, it is almost guaranteed that the next division winner will finish 6-10 by the end of the decade. Numbers don’t lie whatsoever, and for the Philadelphia Eagles they were robbed of a playoff spot to a lesser yet inferior team whom they also slaughtered during the regular season. For fans around the league, I speak for everyone when I say that it wouldn’t be the utmost enjoyable to watch a 7-8-1 or a 7-9 team make the postseason while yours sat at home watching the game at 10-6 or 11-5 uttering “woulda, coulda, shoulda.” The bottom line is, there must be a crucial reevaluation of the tiebreaker system. If not, do not expect to see tranquility of any kind when the occurrence happens again. There may be blood.
Drew Mattiola is a third-year student majoring in communication studies. He can be reached at RM814408@wcupa.edu.