The absolute meaninglessness of winning your division in professional sports

Winning your division in professional sports is borderline pointless.  And I’ll prove it to you.

The Minnesota Vikings traveled to Green Bay on a cold Sunday night to play the Packers for the NFC North title.  And before we wax nostalgic about the history of this division, let’s keep in mind it wasn’t all that long ago it was called the NFC Central and the Tampa Bay Bucs played in it… but that’s neither here nor there.  We all know the NFL failed high school geography.

nfc central card

The Minnesota Vikings, the better of the two teams for most of the year, headed into that football game as underdogs.  They ended up winning the game and therefore their division.

What was their prize for doing so?  They get to host a playoff game… against the red hot Seattle Seahawks who, despite having an off year, were once considered odds-on favorites to win the whole darn thing.  They very well still might.

By virtue of losing Sunday night’s game, the Green Bay Packers have to travel to play the NFC East Champion Washington Redskins, which are by most accounts the second worst division winner in all of football and clearly a worse team than the Seattle Seahawks.

So sure, the Vikings get the extra financial benefits of hosting a playoff game while Green Bay has to travel but if you blindly polled the players on who they’d rather face, one would have to think their answer would overwhelmingly be Washington.

If you believe that winning that final game, and the division title, is more important than having a favorable matchup in the first week of the post-season, I have some front row Super Bowl tickets to sell you real cheap.

Super Bowl tickets

In college football, conference championships are crucial.  You essentially have to win your conference to make it to the final four.  In college basketball, conference championships are considerably less important.  In both sports, however, with so many teams jumping conferences and conferences realigning on a whim, it might be only a matter of time conference championships become irrelevant as well.

But in professional sports, nobody remembers who won what division and when?  Who gives a leap?  Heck, I’ll give you ten bucks if you can  tell me how many divisions there are in the NBA and then name them.  I can’t.

In Major League Baseball, winning the AL East (spoiler alert: East coast bias forthcoming) has traditionally meant a great deal.  But even then, it’s about making it to the World Series.  Who gives a crap which team wins the AL Central?  The only benefit of winning your division is playoff positioning so if finishing first gives you a less favorable match-up, then why bother?  To sell a few extra t-shirts?  Those t-shirts ain’t gonna be worth shit when you’re eliminated in the first round.

I’m not suggesting that professional sports entirely do away with divisions.  They encourage regional rivalries.  The Bears and Packers beating up on each other is what they’ve done since the inception of the league.  Eagles, Giants, Redskins and Cowboys fans hate each other with a passion.  Talk to a Dolphins fan about the Jets, Patriots or Bills and vice versa and you might get smacked upside the head with a half empty beer bottle with no koozie to protect you.

If teams are tanking games for draft positioning (see Titans this year and Bucs last year), why wouldn’t they do the same for playoff positioning where they’re essentially rewarded if they lose?

Bucs draft Jameis Winston

I’m not suggesting the Packers lost that game on purpose.  If you watched any NFL this season, you know the Vikings were the better team.

It’s just too bad they don’t have anything to show for it.

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17 Replies to “The absolute meaninglessness of winning your division in professional sports”

  1. I can’t agree with you more Chris. It is absolutely absurd the way the gazillion dollar industry that is the NFL of all major leagues doesn’t seed teams. If they want to keep rivalries and schedule teams against each other at season’s end so be it. But Kansas City on the road at Houston? Washington hosting? And the Minny scenario as noted. Sure, why not start taking a hard look at your road to the Super Bowl and try to “navigate” the easiest route?

  2. If you think for one moment that the Packers are treating the Redskins like an easier team then you have no idea what professional athletes are. This is how they feed their families and make their living. Go ahead and sleep on the NFC East division champs, because those players in Washington are only about doing one thing this Sunday. Ask Aaron Rodgers on Monday morning if he thinks Seattle would have hit him harder when he dropped back in the pocket.

  3. I can see both sides of the argument, Burnsy.

    And either way, you need to beat the best to beat the best.

    But there is something to be said for match-ups.

    I’m not sure how they’d re-seed or re-schedule or whether they’ll even look at it. This may just be an anomaly although the Seahawks upsetting the Saints in the playoffs a few years ago does come to mind.

    Maybe it’s not bad for the sport. Maybe the word “fair” has absolutely nothing to do with this.

    I just can’t help but think the Seahawks are WAY FUCKING better than the Redskins right about now.

    I guess we’ll just see how it all plays out.

  4. Case…

    Fair argument.

    No disrespect to the Redskins who played well this season… or at least well enough to win their division. And the Green Bay Packers will game plan accordingly.

    I just don’t think they’re better than the Seahawks.

  5. How ’bout them Bucs!!!! See ya Lovie! Are they turning into the Cleveland Browns or what?

  6. “Not so fast my friend.” The Vikings did themselves a big favor by winning in Lambeau. Down the road they probably had to get by Seattle anyway. There chances now are greatly improved, especially under these conditions.

    “Some sunshine is in the offing for the game, but will be ineffective. AccuWeather ReelFeel® Temperatures could reach as low as 20 below zero. The frigid weather may make it rank as one of the coldest NFL games in history and the coldest ever for the Seattle Seahawks, according to the Seattle Times. Fans will need to wear many layers and pack hand and foot warmers.
    “Frostbite will occur quickly to any exposed skin and both fans and players will have to prepare accordingly,” Feerick said. “A wind gusting to 20 mph out of the west also could impact the kicking game.”

  7. Plus, Bets, no Adrian Peterson.

    Even though I like the favorites in this weekend’s matchups, a buddy of mine convinced me to please all four games in favor of the dogs.

    Wish us luck.

  8. A week later it looks even more meaningless as the Vikings lost because Ray Finkle forgot LACES OUT DAN and Green Bay won going away…Classic.

  9. I tried to smoke a cigar when I was 20-something. I had beer-goggles on and didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I inhaled. Deeply. After several hours of vomiting that day I haven’t looked at one to this day. Cigars are bad for the karaoke voice? Cigars are bad for youthful, drunken idiots also.

  10. Well, Burnsy, don’t forget I work in Ybor City where smoking cigars are perfectly apropos. It’s part of the area’s rich heritage.

    I’d say I probably partake in one about every other week, careful not to overdo.

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