This season we again have a lowly eight-win team -- the Green Bay Packers -- in the playoffs. The Packers are only above .500 because the evenly-lowlier Minnesota Vikings couldn't put them away in overtime. It's the third time in four seasons a team with eight or fewer wins is in the playoffs.
At the same time, the 10-win Arizona Cardinals, winners of seven of their last nine and the only team to win on the road in Seattle the last two seasons, are sitting on their couches playing Madden. Five 10-win teams -- plus the 11-win '08 Patriots -- have been left off the playoff schedule.
It's bad enough those eight-win teams get home games, but to take a playoff spot from a team that won two more games is cruel irony. Nobody's going to stop division winners, no matter how bad, from getting into the playoffs.
Instead, the NFL should have a "flex" playoff system that allows every team that gets 10 wins into the playoffs. Some years, like 2011, that would mean the traditional dozen playoff teams. But three of the last four years, there would be a 13th playoff team and a fifth Wild Card Weekend playoff game featuring a 10-win team and a No. 2 seed. It would be fun, it would be fair, and -- most important of all -- it would be crazy profitable.
There's no need for a constant number of playoff teams when you own a network. CBS, NBC and Fox can still have their playoff games featuring the top two wild-card teams. In this new scenario, just about every other year the NFL Network would snag an early 1 p.m. ET Saturday game featuring that 13th playoff team on the road at a No. 2 seed. This year, that game has the potential to be a great matchup with two of the NFL's hottest teams -- the Cardinals and the Panthers -- two teams "no one wants to play."
Forget the NFL Network -- ESPN would pay billions for it.
In fact, over the last decade they would have gotten six great matchups:
2013: Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers
2012: Chicago Bears at San Francisco 49ers
2010: New York Giants at Chicago Bears
2008: New England Patriots at Pittsburgh Steelers
2007: Cleveland Browns at Indianapolis Colts
2005: Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos
"Well what if there are nine teams in one conference that all get 10 wins?"
That would pose a problem, but come on. That's never going to happen. It's like a Jets fan buying Super Bowl tickets with Geno Smith still the starting quarterback. Besides, you just cap it at eight teams and move on.
"But the logistics! It's just too hard to pull off a game with six days' notice!"
We've seen the league move a Dolphins-Chargers game from San Diego to Arizona with days' notice. They shifted an entire Saints season with a couple weeks' warning. They give NBC their final Sunday Night Football marching instructions just a week before the game.
With the possibility of broadcasting a playoff game including one of the top two seeds and a plucky team sneaking its way into the playoffs, they'd figure this out and quick.
It's not like the crazy ideas of doubling the size of the NCAA Tournament to include a bunch of crappy teams with no chance of winning it all. We've seen a couple wild card teams win the Super Bowl in the last decade; adding one or two more in certain years would be adding another real contender to the mix.
Forget about expanding the regular season to 18 games. The NFL Players Association doesn't want it and the players don't want it.
But expanding the playoffs with a fun, unpredictable game with a team playing on borrowed time? Everybody (except said No. 2-seed who would suddenly have a wild card game) would buy in.