NFL predictions: Will a losing-record team win the NFC East?
The Cowboys and Eagles are tied atop the NFC East. Nothing too surprising there. Both have long lapped the Giants and Redskins in what once was the NFL’s premier division.
But the records are surprising. Dallas and Philadelphia each are 6-7, and it’s possible the division could have a losing record.
The good news is that the Cowboys and Eagles play each other, a week from Sunday, so one of the teams is guaranteed to get to seven wins. And that also guarantees that 3-10 Washington can’t tie for the division title.
The Eagles finish at Washington, home vs. Dallas and at the Giants.
The Cowboys finish home with the Rams, at Philadelphia, home against the Redskins.
Dallas beat Philadelphia earlier in the season, so the Cowboys have the tiebreaker edge for now. Seems that one of those teams will get to eight wins and save the NFL a great deal of embarrassment.
But losing-record playoff teams have occurred three times in NFL history. Even twice won a game.
Which has all kinds of people howling for playoff reform. Not that a division winner should make the playoffs, but that the division winner should host a playoff game.
It’s all noise, of course. Yes, the 2010 Seahawks and the 2014 Panthers won playoff games getting to host despite losing records. But be careful for what you wish.
Change the playoff format – go strictly by record – and suddenly teams from weaker divisions have an advantage. A top heavy division, with two really good teams and two duds, could produce a wild-card team that had four automatic victories. That can be the difference between 12-4 and 11-5.
Sure, it’s a bummer that the 2010 Saints and the 2014 Cardinals had to play road games against losing-record teams, but on the other hand, they got to play losing-record teams. Keep your eye on the ball.
Change the format, and an 11-5 division winner could be on the road to start the playoffs, not against a mediocre division winner, but against a really good team that just got a scheduling break.
This is a remedy in search of a problem.
Here are all the non-winning playoff teams in NFL history:
1969 Oilers 6-6-2: Finished second in the AFL East – ahead of the 4-10 Bills, 4-10 Patriots and 3-10-1 Dolphins. Then in the playoffs, Houston lost 56-7 to Oakland.
1982 Browns 4-5: In the strike-shortened season, the NFL expanded the playoffs to 16 teams, so naturally some losing teams got in. Cleveland lost to the Raiders 27-10 in the first round of the post-season.
1982 Lions 4-5: Detroit didn’t put up any more of a fight than did the Browns, losing 31-7 to the eventual Super Bowl champion Redskins.
1985 Browns 8-8: Cleveland won an AFC Central that wasn’t so much bad as it was mediocre. The Bengals and Steelers each finished 7-9. The Browns put up a good fight before losing at Miami 24-21 in the AFC semifinals.
1990 Saints 8-8: In those three-division-per-conference days, three wild-cards were needed once the playoffs expanded to 12 teams. New Orleans lost 16-6 at Chicago in the first round of the playoffs.
1991 Jets 8-8: New York won a tiebreaker with Miami to be the third AFC wild-card, then lost 17-10 at Houston in the first round.
1999 Cowboys 8-8: You think the 2019 NFC East is mediocre? The entire NFC had just four winning records in ’99. Dallas and Detroit, both 8-8, got in the playoffs. The Cowboys were dominated 27-10 at Minnesota.
1999 Lions 8-8: Detroit fared little better, losing 27-13 at Washington.
2004 Vikings 8-8: By 2004, we had the current four-division-per-conference alignment – and still no wild-card team finished with a winning record. And Minnesota made history, becoming the first team to win a playoff game without a winning record. The Vikings won 31-17 at Green Bay. Minnesota lost 27-14 the next week at Philadelphia.
2004 Rams 8-8: How mediocre was the NFC in 2004? If not for Seattle’s 28-26 victory over the Falcons in the regular-season finale, the Seahawks would have finished 8-8 also. The Rams would have won the NFC West at 8-8, with Seattle the wild-card. The Rams lost 27-20 at Seattle in the playoffs’ first round.
2006 Giants 8-8: In ’06, Dallas was the NFC top wild-card, at 9-7, with the Giants winning tiebreakers over the Rams, Panthers and Packers, all at 8-8. The Giants then lost 23-20 at Philadelphia.
2008 Chargers 8-8: San Diego joined the 1985 Browns in winning a division without a winning record. The Chargers then beat the 12-4 Colts in the wild-card round. San Diego became the first non-winning team to host a playoff game, and the Chargers beat Indianapolis 23-17. In the AFC semifinals, the Steelers beat San Diego 35-24.
2010 Seahawks 7-9: Seattle became the first losing-record to win a division. Then the Seahawks became the first losing-record team to host a playoff game. And finally, Seattle stunned the 11-5 Saints 41-36. These Seahawks remain the poster children for playoff reform, despite losing 35-24 at Chicago in the NFC semifinals.
2011 Broncos 8-8: Denver won the greatest divisional race ever – the Broncos, Chargers and Raiders all finished 8-8, with the Chiefs finishing 7-9. Then Tim Tebow and the Broncos stunned the 12-4 Steelers, winning 29-23 in overtime in Denver. In the AFC semifinals, New England rolled the Broncos 45-10.
2013 Packers 8-7-1: Green Bay won the NFC North by a half-game over Chicago, then was bounced out of the playoffs by the 49ers 23-20 at Lambeau Field.
2014 Panthers 7-8-1: Carolina won the NFC South, then got to play at home against the 11-5 Cardinals. The Panthers won 27-16 before losing 31-17 at Seattle in the NFC semifinals.
Let’s get to the predictions:
Jetropolitans at Ravens: Baltimore 19-14. Will Lamar Jackson play? Why would the Ravens need him to?
Patriots at Bengals: New England 26-10. If the Patriots struggle in Cincinnati, we know there’s serious trouble in Belichick Land.
Buccaneers at Lions: Tampa Bay 30-20. Two wayward franchises, but the Bucs have shown more recent life.
Bears at Packers: Green Bay 21-20. Mitch Trubisky has resurrected his career, and Chicago’s playoff hopes remain at least alive.
Texans at Titans: Tennessee 27-24. Suddenly, this is for AFC South supremacy. And the Titans and Ryan Tannehill, not the Texas and Deshaun Watson, have been more consistent down the stretch.
Broncos at Chiefs: Kansas City 27-12. Drew Lock is making Denver think it has found its quarterback. But the Chiefs defense has grown fangs.
Dolphins at Giants: New York 18-17. Oh my goodness, what a dreadful game.
Eagles at Redskins: Philadelphia 24-17. Philly struggled at home with the Giants. Why wouldn’t Philly struggle on the road against the Redskins?
Seahawks at Panthers: Seattle 31-19. The Seahawks looked overmatched against the 49ers. That’s got to be alarming.
Jaguars at Raiders: Oakland 34-14. If you can figure out the Raiders, you’re ahead of the curve. At least we all have figured out the Jags.
Browns at Cardinals: Cleveland 23-20. Baker Mayfield meets Kyler Murray. Murray’s Arizona squad can put the Browns out of their misery, but the growing pains have been rough on Murray in recent weeks.
Vikings at Chargers: Minnesota 27-20. The Vikes don’t screw around with losing teams. Their losses this season were at Green Bay, at Chicago, at Kansas City, at Seattle.
Rams at Cowboys: Los Angeles 26-17. When Dallas at the Jets on October 13, we should have known the train was off the track.
Falcons at 49ers: San Francisco 30-20. The Falcons seem to be trying to save their Dan Quinn’s job, and they might have done it.
Bills at Steelers: Pittsburgh 13-12. First team to score a touchdown wins.
Colts at Saints: New Orleans 28-9. The Saints are coming off a game-of-the-year loss, 48-46 at home to San Francisco. Bad draw for Indy.
Last week: 10-6. Season: 132-75-1.