Have at It: Postseason imbalance

Michael started it off during Tuesday's SportsNation chat. The relevant exchange:

Michael (Norfolk)

If the Packers go 11-5 and still miss the playoffs, but we get an NFC West team that makes the playoffs at 7-9, is it time for things to change?

Kevin Seifert (2:26 PM)

I don't think so. There has to be incentive to win a division. What would your idea be?

We kicked around a few thoughts during the chat, but I think we should open the debate to our full community.

The chart shows the NFC's top eight teams by order of potential playoff seeding if the season ended this week. The Packers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, both 7-4, wouldn't qualify. But at 5-6, the St. Louis Rams would be the No. 4 seed because of their NFC West lead.

This is an old(er) issue with a 2010, NFC North-related twist. Our top-heavy conference leaves open the possibility that the Packers or even Chicago Bears (8-3) could miss the playoffs in a year that a .500 (or worse) team could be guaranteed a spot as NFC West champions.

So let me know what you think and what suggestions you might have. A few points to guide the initial conversation:

  • Since the 1978 expansion to a 16-game schedule, two 11-5 teams have missed the playoffs: The 1985 Denver Broncos and the 2008 New England Patriots. Would two occasions be enough to make dramatic changes to the playoff system?

  • This year promises an especially tight playoff race. According to the NFL, we are entering the first Week 13 since 2000 with no chance for any team to clinch a playoff spot.

  • In Tuesday's chat, Nick and Mike suggested a re-alignment that left each conference with two divisions. That change would all but eliminate the possibility of a .500 team getting an automatic playoff bid. But would it also reduce the drama of division races?

As always, I'll publish a representative sample of your responses, as well as my own take, by the end of the week. Have at It.