The NFL rewards division winners more than it does overall win-loss records when it comes to the postseason, which is why Jim Harbaugh and the San Francisco 49ers are being punished by having to go on the road to face the Green Bay Packers in what could be almost inhumane, Hoth-like conditions.
That is why the league says it is considering tweaks to the current playoff format, which gives every division winner a home playoff game, even if they have the inferior record — such as the 8-7-1 Packers hosting the 12-4 Niners.
"Every scenario has been discussed, ranging from reseeding to one extra game, expanding from 12 to 14 teams," McCarthy said in a comment posted on NFL.com. "Think of a scenario, it's been discussed and remains in play."
Home-field advantage has its perks, and the numbers back it up. In the Super Bowl era, according to STATS via the NFL, home teams win at a .575 clip during the regular season, and the number jumps to .675 in the playoffs.
The NFL doesn't want to diminish the meaning of teams winning divisions. The league puts extra weight in divisional and traditional rivalries and doesn't want to undo what it wisely has created with the all-divisional-game format for Week 17 games, which has created some great win-or-go-home scenarios the past several seasons.
But should a clearly more consistent 49ers team have to go on the road this weekend? What about the 11-5 New Orleans Saints having to play at the 10-6 Philadelphia Eagles? This problem has developed mostly over the past seven seasons, during which at least one team with a superior record was forced to go on the road, including the Saints famously playing at the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks, who won the NFC West. The Saints, of course, were upset in that game. From 1989 through 2001, though, only three road teams with better records than their first-round opponents had to go on the road.
Will this lead to change? Possibly. It's likely something commissioner Roger Goodell will be asked at the Super Bowl this year, and it could lead to change down the line. But this much we know for now: Nothing is changing before this weekend's games. So bundle up, 49ers.
- - - - - - -