The Seattle Seahawks, at times, resembled one of the NFC’s best teams this season. The Philadelphia Eagles rarely, if ever, belonged in that category. But when the two teams meet Sunday in the opening round of the NFC playoffs, it will be the nine-win Eagles playing at home, hosting the 11-win Seahawks.
And the NFL has no problem whatsoever with that.
The sport’s postseason format by which a division-winning team is guaranteed to host a playoff game, even if the wild-card team that it is facing in the opening round has a superior record, can prompt feelings of indignation by fans and other observers. To them, it just doesn’t seem fair.
But owners of NFL teams don’t share those views. To them, a division winner should be rewarded with a home playoff game. And they show no signs of budging from that stance.
“I’ll just tell you this is not the first time this conversation has occurred or this situation has occurred,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said at the December owners’ meeting in Dallas. “As you know, teams go into the season, their first objective is to win the division. That’s what they work on: If we win the division, we get in the playoffs.”
A rule change that would allow a wild-card playoff team with a superior record to host a division winner during the postseason has been discussed by the owners in the past. But such a measure never generated the support necessary to be ratified.
“That is something that we’ve considered over the years,” Goodell said. “I have not heard that this year. I don’t anticipate hearing it again… . I don’t see that as an issue now.”
For some of the season, it appeared the NFC East might produce the NFL’s third division winner with a losing record in a 16-game season. The Eagles kept that from happening by winning their final four games of the regular season to finish 9-7.
“I’d say come playoff time,” Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz said after Sunday’s division-clinching triumph over the New York Giants at the Meadowlands, “records don’t matter… . They all go out the window. We’re also grateful we’re gonna be playing a home game next week, too. So hopefully fans show up and have quite the rocking atmosphere next week.”
The Eagles aren’t apologizing, not after enduring a series of injuries down the stretch that made simply patching together a lineup around Wentz on offense an arduous task for Coach Doug Pederson.
“It was excitement,” Pederson said of the Eagles’ locker room celebration Sunday. “It was guys dancing. The music was going. Guys are excited. It’s a great feeling. We set out back in July. This was obviously one of many of our goals this season. Obviously we can check this box. What I love about this football team is how we have stuck together the entire season. Through all the ups and downs, through all the injuries, we’ve battled. We’ve put ourselves in this position to win the NFC East. We’ve done that. But what I see from our players is they’re already talking about next week.”
The Seahawks nearly avoided this predicament. They came a few inches shy of a game-winning touchdown in the closing moments of Sunday night’s loss at home to the San Francisco 49ers. A victory by the Seahawks would have given them, not the 49ers, the NFC West title.
It’s not all bad for the Seahawks. They were 7-1 on the road during the regular season, compared to 4-4 at home. They won, 17-9, at Philadelphia in November.
But they also can find a cautionary tale in their own history. The Seahawks were a 7-9 playoff team in 2010, winning the NFC West. They hosted a first-round playoff game against a wild-card team, the New Orleans Saints, that had gone 11-5 during the regular season. And the Seahawks won, 41-36.
So, clearly, the Eagles have a chance this weekend. They seem to know it.
“I’m grateful for this opportunity,” Wentz said Sunday. “And we’re gonna make the most of it.”