As the regular season winds down, we are more apt to focus on NFL standings. Which team is leading their division? Which team is barely hanging on to a chance at the playoffs?
It’s fun to speculate, but there comes a time when NFL standings are simply meaningless.
Typically, once the dust clears and we have our playoff teams, ALL bets are off.
Though NFL standings are important indicators of which teams will make it to the next stage of the NFL season, but why is there such an over-emphasis on standings once the season is over?
Or into the NEXT season?
Let’s look at the maddeningly mediocre Seattle Seahawks. During the 2013-14 NFL season, the Seahawks were setting the league ablaze.
When the Denver Broncos met the Seattle team at Super Bowl XLVIII, they were too much for the otherwise outstanding Peyton Manning.
NFL fans bore witness to one heck of a beating: 43 – 8.
And yet, this NFC team did NOT return to the top of the league standings the next season—Super Bowl winning teams rarely do.
Heading into Week 12, the NFL standings suggest that last year’s champions could very well miss the playoffs altogether.
— ESPN First Take (@ESPN_FirstTake) November 10, 2014
If that wasn’t difficult enough to wrap your brain around, consider the curious case of the Atlanta Falcons.
This is a 4-6 team and it’s currently sitting pretty at the top of the NFC South.
In fact, there is a rather anemic race underway between the Falcons and the New Orleans Saints to determine which team will limp its way into a position as the 4th seeded team in the NFC. And amazingly, the nearly comatose 3-7 Carolina Panthers still have a chance.
Incredibly (if not depressingly), no matter HOW terribly the teams in the AFC South perform, that team is still bound for the playoffs. Even as NFL teams with superior win-loss ratios go home.
— Atlanta_Falcons (@Atlanta_Falcons) November 16, 2014
The bitter fans of those homeward-bound NFL teams will no doubt console themselves with the belief that whichever NFC South team makes it, “they’re so bad, they’ll probably lose their very next game!”
Except, that might not happen at all.
As mentioned earlier, this is the stage of the season where the regular season NFL standings no longer matter.
The slate will be wiped clean and ANYTHING can happen.
This is no doubt the likeliest of explanations for how the New England Patriots saw their 2007 dream season end in an abrupt nightmare, courtesy of Eli Manning and a laughably lackluster New York Giants.
The team that beat the Patriots at Super Bowl XLII hadn’t won a playoff game for seven seasons straight prior to a series of upsets.
To summarize, NFL standings are great for understanding which teams will feature in the playoffs. They can give you an idea of which teams will be highly formidable.
However, nothing is written in stone once the regular season in any given year comes to an end.
In that regard, the NFL standings may be meaningless: The Arizona Cardinals and Atlanta Falcons have equal odds of making the Super Bowl, so long as you’re wise enough to rate a team without counting anyone out.
(Except the Oakland Raiders. See you guys next season!)
So, what are your thoughts on NFL standings and the post-season? Do you think too much (or too little) is made of a team’s future success based on standings?
[Image Credit: The Whole Table]