When the playoffs kick off next weekend, the San Francisco 49ers will be playing on the road at Green Bay despite having the second-best record in the NFC and four more wins than the Packers. While this may appear to be an unfortunate anomaly, it is not.
This game is the fourth time in the last six years in which a team with at least 11 wins was forced to play its first playoff game on the road against a team with four fewer wins.
In 2011, the Pittsburgh Steelers finished 12-4 but lost their division based on a tie-breaker and were forced to play Tim Tebow and the 8-8 Broncos in Denver. A year earlier, the New Orleans Saints went 11-5 but had to travel to Seattle to play the 7-9 Seahawks in the first round. Finally, in 2008, the 12-4 Indianapolis Colts played on the road against the 8-8 San Diego Chargers.
To make matters worse, in all three games, the team with the far superior regular season record lost a close game on the road, including two in overtime.
The 49ers are not the only team to get screwed this year. The 11-5 New Orleans Saints must play in Philadelphia against the Eagles who went 10-6 in the weak NFC East division. Overall, 14 of the 28 opening round playoff games in the last seven seasons has seen a team playing on the road against a team with a worse record.
Then there are the Arizona Cardinals this season who have two more wins than the Packers and aren’t in the playoffs at all.
The NFL wants to reward teams for winning their divisions. But with only four teams in each division, it should not be surprising that nearly every year the NFL is rewarding undeserving teams and punishing those that have played good football.
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