The Seattle Seahawks, with a record of 7-9, are going to the playoffs as the champions of the NFC West. The four teams in the division ended up with a combined record of 25-39, or 13-27 when they weren’t playing one another. No team with a record as bad as Seattle’s had ever made the NFL playoffs before; Nate Silver calculates that they may be the
second-worst playoff team
in the history of major American pro sports:
They allowed 407 points during the regular season while scoring just 310, meaning that they were outscored by roughly a touchdown per game on average. Although it is quite common for N.F.L. teams to reach the playoffs with a negative point differential, none has had one as poor as the Seahawks’ minus-97.
The Seahawks, moreover, were probably fortunate to be outscored by only 97 points. Measured by yardage, their offense ranked 28th of the 32 N.F.L. teams, while their defense ranked 27th.
Does it matter? The NFL’s eight-division alignment and asymmetric schedule more or less guarantee that the 12 teams that make the playoffs are not the league’s best 12 teams.
Remember the 2006 Kansas City Chiefs? You probably shouldn’t. They went 9-7, outscoring opponents by a total of 16 points, qualified as a wild card, and lost to the Colts, 28-7, while being outgained, 435 yards to 126 . Or take the 2008 Miami Dolphins , who went 11-5—despite a feeble scoring differential—won a tiebreaker for the AFC East championship, and got crushed at home by the Ravens in the first round.
History is full of teams whose reward for making the playoffs is a swift, merciless beating. There aren’t a dozen championship-caliber teams in the NFL, this year or any year. The system is set up to make sure that the top four or five teams, the real contenders, get in. Along with them, maybe the wide net trawls in the 13th-best team instead of the 11th-best team. Maybe this year, it trawled in the 27th-best.
Either way, most years, some joke of a team makes the playoffs. It’s just that this year’s joke comes with a laugh track.