Browns, Eagles Got Robbed

Since 2015, the NBA has disregarded division finish entirely in determining which teams make the playoffs at all — so that a team could win their division yet miss the postseason altogether, not even qualifying for the "play-in" that has become a fixture of the NBA postseason since the COVID-19 pandemic.

While few if any NFL owners would be willing to go that far, is it too much to ask that the teams that do make the playoffs in each conference be seeded strictly by record?

There can even be a safe and sane compromise: If two (or more) teams in a conference finish with the same record, the higher division finisher gets the higher seed. This includes cases in which a second-place team from one division finishes tied with a third-place team from another division, so as to make division finish — and division games — matter more.

(After all, didn't the NFL make all games played on the final week of the regular season be within the same division in 2010?)

In the just-concluded regular season, the 11-6 Browns had to go on the road to take on the 10-7 Texans at Houston's NRG Stadium. Not only was Cleveland 3-5 on the road this season (their #1-ranked defense allowing 331.3 yards and 29.6 points per game) as opposed to 8-1 at home (giving up just 215.9 yards and 13.9 points per game), but going into the game, the Browns were 13-31 since 2012 on artificial turf, and 4-9 since 2015 indoors. So it's hardly surprising that they lost Saturday's wild card game 45-14.

Two days later the Eagles, still 11-6 despite losing five of their last six games, had to travel to Raymond James Stadium in Tampa to take on the 9-8 Buccaneers, the "champions" of the wretched NFC South. In an outcome that will almost certainly cost offensive coordinator Brian Johnson, defensive coordinator Sean Desai, and Desai's putative successor Matt Patricia their jobs — and quite possibly cost head coach Nick Sirianni his job, as well — the Bucs spanked the Eagles 32-9.

But what would have happened if the format proposed herein had been observed?

In the AFC, after Baltimore getting the 1 seed (and a first-round bye) and Buffalo and Kansas City the 2 and 3 seeds respectively (the Bills defeated the Chiefs head-to-head and both won their divisions while the Browns and Dolphins did not), Cleveland would have gotten the 4 seed and Miami the 5 seed on the grounds of the Browns having a better conference record. Houston would have been the 6 seed over Pittsburgh because the Texans won their division and the Steelers did not.

Over in the NFC, the top three seeds would have remained unchanged — San Francisco, with a better conference record than both Dallas and Detroit, as the 1 seed, and Dallas as the 2 seed due to a head-to-head victory over Detroit. But then Philadelphia would have gotten the 4 seed, on the grounds of a head-to-head victory over the Rams, with Tampa Bay getting the 6 seed over Green Bay because the Bucs won their division and the Packers did not.

Might not the Browns, playing at home, have defeated the Dolphins, who were 26-55 "as a visitor in cold weather;" that is, playing on the road at a northern, outdoor venue in November or later, dating all the way back to 1995?

And might not the Eagles, even with all their recent struggles, have beaten a Rams team that is 15-29 "as a visitor in cold weather" since 1992?

It is difficult, if not impossible, to refute any of the arguments offered up in this article.

In a league where teams play only six of their 17 games within their division — and sooner or later it is bound to be six out of 18 — the practice of giving teams that win a weak division a guaranteed home playoff game has long since outlived its usefulness.

The NBA's playoff format is too radical. But this one balances everyone's interests.

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