Playoff chaos? Blame realignment

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Jan 10, 2009



The NFL playoffs have been extraordinarily difficult to figure out in recent years.
 
Back in 2005, the Steelers became the first team in history to win three straight road playoff games and the Super Bowl. Then, just two years later, the Giants duplicated what seemed like a historic feat, also navigating three road games on the way to the Lombardi Trophy. The 2006 Colts, meanwhile, won the Super Bowl after a season in which they surrendered 360 points, the worst defense ever to win the Big One. Then came the 2007 Giants, who won the title despite outscoring their regular-season opponents by a miniscule 22 points. And only one No. 1 seed this decade has won the Super Bowl: the 2003 Patriots.
 
The 2008 season, meanwhile, provides a conference title game pitting two nine-win teams (Arizona, Philadelphia) for the first time since, get this, the 1967 Ice Bowl between 9-5 Dallas and 9-4-1 Green Bay, back in the 14-game era.
 
Why all the chaos?
 
Blame the realignment of 2002, which broke the league into eight four-team divisions. The realignment gave us situations like the one we've had here in 2008, when a 12-4 team (Indy) has to go on the road to face an 8-8 team (San Diego), while an 11-5 team (New England) that beat a 9-7 title-game contender (Arizona) by 40 points just a few weeks ago sits at home and watches it all unfold.
 
It's a disaster, folks.
 
Essentially, the current alignment devalues the 16-game regular season, and seems to reward teams unduly with home playoff games that they probably don't deserve. And it simply demands that you beat out three other teams, in some cases three other bad teams (see: "AFC West" and "NFC West") to reach the postseason. We'll have much more on this topic in the days and weeks ahead.
 
But for proof of the chaos, just look at the impact realignment has had on what used to be known back in the good old days as homefield "advantage."
 
From 1970 to 2001, home teams had a winning record in the postseason in every single year but two (1971, 1992), when the split the playoff slate 50-50.
 
In 2005, just the fourth year of realignment, home teams suffered a losing record (4-6) for the first time in history. Last year, home teams went just .500. And, no matter what happens next weekend in the conference championship games, home teams (currently 3-5) will do no better than .500 this year.
 
That's two .500 postseasons in the 32 years from 1970 to 2001, and three .500 (or worse) postseasons in the last four years.
 
Anyone else sense a disturbance in the football force? Well, here it is:
  • Home teams won 70.4 percent of playoff games (190-80) from the merger in 1970 to the last year of the old alignment in 2001.
  • Home teams have won just 58.8 percent of playoff games (40-28) from the realignment of 2002 until today.
  • Home teams have won just 52.6 percent of playoff games (20-18) since 2004, easily the worst four years for home teams in NFL postseason history.
  • If the Ravens and Eagles win next Sunday, clearly a possibility, 2008 will easily go down as the worst year for home teams in NFL postseason history (3-7).
Here's a look at the postseason performance of home teams every year since the merger. Clearly, realignment has changed playoff expecations. The only question is if it's changed things for the better or for the worst. Our take is this: it's become increasingly clear that the realignment has devalued the regular season. But, again, more on this development in the days ahead.
 

Year

Home wins

Home losses

1970

4

2

1971

3

3

1972

4

2

1973

5

1

1974

5

1

1975

4

2

1976

4

2

1977

4

2

1978

5

3

1979

5

3

1980

5

3

1981

5

3

1982

11

3

1983

6

2

1984

5

3

1985

5

3

1986

6

2

1987

5

3

1988

6

2

1989

5

3

1990

8

2

1991

8

2

1992

5

5

1993

8

2

1994

8

2

1995

7

3

1996

8

2

1997

6

4

1998

8

2

1999

7

3

2000

8

2

2001

7

3

2002

8

2

2003

6

4

2004

6

4

2005

4

6

2006

8

2

2007

5

5

2008

3

5


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