No matter the record, the division winner deserves a playoff spot. The way NFL scheduling works, every team in a division plays 14 out of 16 common opponents. In the NFC West, each team plays each other twice, and this season, each team plays all teams in the NFC South and AFC West. This common scheduling provides the most accurate way to determine the best team in the division.
However, there's less of a determinant for comparing teams across divisions. For argument's sake, suppose the NFC South and AFC West were stacked top to bottom. Each team in the NFC West would face eight tough opponents, setting them up for more losses. And if the NFC West teams split wins in divisional games, then a team with a losing record could emerge as the division winner.
The Packers, who might be left out of the playoffs, play the NFC East and AFC East. Now suppose these are easy opponents. The Packers might collect seven wins, whereas say the Seahawks lose seven games against their tougher opponents (in example world). So if the Packers went on to a 9-7 season while the Seahawks went 7-9, how is it fair that the Packers qualify with such an incomparable schedule?
Obviously, this example doesn't apply very well to this season. In fact, the roles are reversed. How is it fair that the Packers might be left out when they have a much tougher schedule and have a better record than any NFC West team? But the point is that the strength of schedule varies from year to year.
In 2008, the Chargers won the AFC West at 8-8, while the Patriots missed the playoffs at 11-5. But the Patriots went 4-0 against a weak NFC West while the Chargers went 1-3 against a tough NFC South where the worst team was the 8-8 Saints.
You can try to argue that the Patriots were better than the Chargers based on their overall record, or you can argue that the Chargers were better because of the schedule and the fact that the Chargers beat the Patriots during the regular season.
But by granting division winners a playoff spot, there's no need to compare apples to oranges.
Why have the divisions in the first place if they don't count for anything? If the teams with the best records should make the playoffs, then there should just be random scheduling, or else the current scheduling system becomes pointless.
Instead, the divisions keep the league balanced. Yes, the Packers and Bucs look better than any NFC West team this season, but you can't make that comparison every year, as the 2008 Chargers showed. And while the 8-8 Chargers won a playoff game that season, the 9-7 Cardinals advanced to the Super Bowl, proving that regular-season records are only one indicator of success.
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