Booger McFarland, ESPN's Monday Night Football color commentator, appeared on Get Up this morning to express his dismay at a seventh team making the playoffs in each conference. According to McFarland, this "rewards mediocrity."
So is it true? Here's a look at the theoretical seven seeds from each conference over the last five seasons:
AFC: Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8)
NFC: Los Angeles Rams (9-7)
AFC: Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7)
NFC: Minnesota Vikings (8-7-1)
AFC: Baltimore Ravens (9-7)
NFC: Detroit Lions (9-7)
AFC: Tennessee Titans (9-7)
NFC: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-7)
AFC: New York Jets (10-6)
NFC: Atlanta Falcons (8-8)
Sure, some of those teams - like Duck Hodges' Steelers last season - look pretty mediocre, but in most cases, the would-be seven seed had a record as good or better than a team that made the playoffs. Going back one more year, in 2014 the 10-6 Philadelphia Eagles would have been the seventh seed. Instead they stayed home while the division-winning Carolina Panthers got in with a 7-8-1 record. As did the 8-8 San Francisco 49ers.
If you're worried about rewarding mediocrity, then just take the four best teams by record. We haven't had a Super Bowl winner from outside that category since the '11 New York Giants went 9-7. Teams that just missed had a nearly-mediocre record. But the same can be said of some of the division winners or wild card teams. If anything, this punishes good teams, which the NFL also does already; in '14 the 12-4 Dallas Cowboys had to play on Wild Card weekend while the 12-4 Seattle Seahawks and 12-4 Green Bay Packers got byes. Under the new system the Packers would lose their bye.
On top of that, the last two Super Bowl champions, the '19 Chiefs and '18 Patriots, were both two seeds. With the new system both those teams would have had to play an extra game. They likely still win their wild card games, but replacing that week of rest with an NFL football game might be the difference between a Super Bowl and something less. While this new system does reward lesser teams, the real danger is to the second-best teams.