Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
November 27, 2020

No NFC East team should go to the playoffs this year

By DAVID BAIK | October 29, 2020

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BETP // CC BY-SA 3.0

The Philadelphia Eagles are currently in first place in their division with a record of 2-4-1.

The Philadelphia Eagles took on the New York Giants in some National Football League (NFL) intra-division play on Oct. 22. No team seemed to have a clear advantage over the other, as evidenced by the back and forth nature of the game. This aspect, however, did make for an exciting game.

The game really picked up in the second half. Giants quarterback Daniel Jones started the excitement when he clocked the fastest speed for a quarterback since 2018 running for 80 yards. While Jones unfortunately tripped before the end zone, teammate Wayne Gallman Jr. punched in the score to put the Giants up 14-10 after the extra point.

Both teams remained scoreless until around six minutes left in the fourth quarter, when Jones found wide receiver Sterling Shepard for Jones’s second passing touchdown for the day.

Down 21-10 in the final stretch of the game, quarterback Carson Wentz and the Philadelphia Eagles needed big plays and some luck to win. Wentz would go on to deliver. First, he threw a deep pass to rookie John Hightower for 77 yards, setting up the Eagles for the red zone. Less than a minute later, Wentz zipped the ball to receiver Greg Ward Jr. for a touchdown. While the Eagles failed to convert the two-point attempt, the Giants could not punish them with any more offense.

Willing his team to the red zone again, Wentz threw another touchdown pass, this time to running back Boston Scott. The Eagles missed another two-point conversion, but defensive end Brandon Graham came through in the clutch to strip Jones and ice the game. 

This win secures the first-seed spot in the division for the Eagles, which would be impressive if both teams hadn’t come in with only one win seven games into the season. As evidenced by the standings, the other two teams in the division, the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Football Team, do not have much to hope for either. In their second game without star quarterback Dak Prescott, the Cowboys lost to the Football Team 25-3.

The National Football Conference (NFC) East seems to be a race to the bottom seed, as a tie the Eagles had against the Cincinnati Bengals earlier this season is what differentiates first seed from the rest. For comparison, every other division leader in the league has at least five wins. In fact, the NFC West has three teams with at least five wins, and the last place San Francisco 49ers would be the top seed if they were in the East.

With the way NFL playoff seeding works, one of these West teams are guaranteed to miss the playoffs. Each top seed from each conference’s four divisions automatically gets one of seeds one through four depending on record. The next best three teams in the conference are then ranked seeds five through seven. So, a team like the Eagles would begin the playoffs with home-field advantage despite having a worse record than the five seed.

This format also leaves room for two of the top teams record-wise to face off before the conference championship but gives the higher seed home field even when the record difference may be negligible.

Why does this all matter? As sports fans we should expect to see the most competitive teams play, which often leads to more memorable games. Something as arbitrary as which division one team plays for should not hold a large stake in whether or not that team makes the playoffs.

And as much as it hurts to say as an Eagles fan, I don’t believe any team from the NFC East deserves a spot in the playoffs when seven wins could be all it takes to make it. Of course, injuries have taken a toll on multiple teams in the conference, and I will always root for the Eagles. But the point stands: Playoff seeding should reward the best records, not the division winners.

Although the NFL has recently amended the playoff format to include more teams, it needs to do more to make sure stronger teams are not at home in January.

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