This might be a bit of a moot point, since the supposedly undeserving Chargers have advanced to the divisional round, but here's my humble proposal to "fix" the NFL playoff system.
A lot of people talk about just picking the top six teams in each conference, without altering the schedule or the divisional format. That is stoooopid. Are you really not going to take into account how some divisions are a MUCH stronger than others? Plus, what is the point of winning a division title if you aren't guaranteed a playoff spot to go along with it?
My proposal is sort of radical, but I think it would work.
1. Divisions are eliminated.
2. Every team will play every other conference opponent once a year (15 games)
3. Every team will play two games against teams in the other conference (yes, that gets us to 17 regular season games). One game will be against the team that finished in the corresponding position in the other conference. For example, the Seahawks finished 14th in the NFC this year. This means next year they'd play the AFC's 14th place team: Cincinnati.
The 17th game? This is the "flex game," which the NFL can schedule to push regional rivalries (Jets-Giants), or a Super Bowl rematch, etc. This can also be one of the "neutral site" or international games the NFL is so interested in.
4. The playoffs are expanded, including the top 7 teams in each conference. The BIG prize for having the best record in each conference? The only bye week for that conference's playoffs.
Based on this year's regular season, here's what that would have looked like:
7. Tampa Bay
Wild Card Saturday Triple-header!!!
(7) TB @ (2) CAR
(6) PHI @ (3) ATL
(5) AZ @ (4) MIN
The three winners advance, with the #1 seed hosting the lowest surviving seed, and the highest surviving seed hosting the remaining surviving team. Just for fun, here's the AFC:
6. New England
Wild Card Sunday Triple-Header!
(7) NYJ @ (2) PIT
(6) NWE @ (3) IND
(5) BAL @ (4) MIA
The extra week of the regular season, plus the two extra playoff games, would be a financial windfall for the NFL. Fan interest would be increased even more, and without divisions you'd be ensured that the 7 best teams in each conference reach the post-season. It would also be highly unlikely that 8-9 (or worse) teams would make the tournament.
Even if you are worried about maintaining traditional divisional rivalries, those teams would still play each other once a year. The OSU-Michigan rivalry isn't any less intense given that they only play once a year, is it?
Can anyone give me a compelling argument against this?
Bonus: Here's a theoretical 2009 Seahawks schedule based on this system...
9/6/09 @ AZ
9/13/09 @ DET
9/20/09 v. DAL
9/27/09 v. SF
10/4/09 @ CHI
10/11/09 v. NYG
10/18/09 @ NO
10/25/09 v. CAR
11/1/09 BYE WEEK
11/9/09 v. PIT (AFC flex game; MNF)
11/15/09 @ TB
11/22/09 v. ATL
11/29/09 @ CIN (AFC game @ Ohio Stadium in Columbus)
12/6/09 v. STL
12/13/09 @ GB
12/20/09 @ WA
12/27/09 v. MIN
1/3/10 v. PHI