December 2, 2022 12:00pm

Should Losing Teams Be Playoff Eligible?

We Asked Power Poll NFL.

Photo of Rick Gosselin
NFL Correspondent

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers lead the NFC South with a 5-6 record. That gives them six more games to avoid the ignominy of capturing the division with a losing record.

Not that teams have been punished for that, mind you. Three teams since 2010 captured division titles with losing records: the Seattle Seahawks (7-9) in 2010, the Carolina Panthers (7-8-1) in 2014 and the Washington Redskins (7-9) in 2020. Despite their records, those three teams were awarded not only a spot in the playoffs but, as division champions, a home field in the first round.

Division champions with losing records were the topic of our two questions in this week’s NFL Power Poll featuring our panel of NFL team talent evaluators, former players, writers and broadcasters. First, we asked whether teams with losing records even belong in the playoffs, considering the NFL is supposed to showcase the best of the league. Secondly, we asked if the NFL should continue to reward those division champs with losing records a home playoff game?

A whopping 82 percent of the 249 respondents answered yes to the first question—division champions belong in the post-season regardless of record.

“You’ve got to compete for something,” said Hall of Fame wide receiver Drew Pearson. “That’s football. Winning a division title is an accomplishment regardless of record. Take that away and division races and rivalries are meaningless.”

Added Bob Glauber, a Hall of Fame voter: “Divisional winners with losing records are rare. I don’t see the need to change the system to address it. Too many unintended consequences, the biggest being the devaluation of divisional rivalries.”

When Seattle won that division in 2010 with a losing record to qualify for the playoffs, two teams with 10-6 records were left out, the Buccaneers and Giants. When Carolina won its division in 2014 with a losing record, that left the 10-6 Philadelphia Eagles out of the playoff mix.

“I understand the logic of not rewarding champions—especially when you have a team like the Dallas Cowboys that may win 13 games and then have to play a team (Tampa Bay) that could have a losing record in the wild-card round because the NFC East may have a 14-win champion,” said Jeffrey Kerr of

“I’m against participation trophies,” said former NFL scout Mike Hagen. “The best should play for the pot.”

The second question was split almost evenly. Forty-nine percent said continue giving all division champions home games. But 51 percent said seed the playoff bracket by record with the four winningest teams garnering home playoff games—not necessarily the four division winners.

“The reward for winning a division is a spot in the playoffs,” said Matt Smith of iHeartMedia. “But the reward for winning the most games should be home-field advantage.”

Hal Habib of the Palm Beach Post agreed: “Home-field advantage should be your reward for winning games, not for being in a lame division.”

Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports offered up a counterpoint.

“Just because a team doesn’t win a division with a winning record doesn’t mean it can’t compete in the post-season,” Robinson said. “Ask Ron Rivera.”

Rivera coached those 2014 Carolina and 2020 Washington teams and used the home field to his advantage in the first-round. His Panthers upset the 11-5 Arizona Cardinals and his Redskins almost knocked off the Super Bowl-bound Tampa Bay Buccaneers before falling, 31-23. The 2010 Seahawks also pulled off a first-round upset, beating the 11-5 New Orleans Saints.

“There is no need to change anything about the playoff format,” said Jeff Schudel, who covers the Cleveland Browns for The News-Herald. “If a sub-.500 division champion is that inferior to its first-round opponent, it will be eliminated quickly.”

Added Bob Papa, the radio voice of the New York Giants: “My biggest fear is that a fourth wild card will be introduced. Don’t become the NHL.”

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About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of significant key players in American sports today. It's member list draws on people from media, team management, and league management. It is not a scientific survey, but the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those who know most about the sport.

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