Sunday, December 28, 2008

It Doesn't Look Good For the 3, 4 Seeds

Can the NFL Playoff system be any worse? I think it's comparable to the NBA, although the NBA is far worse for allowing losing teams in the playoffs way more than should be normal. While the 11-5 New England Patriots will sit out these playoffs, an 8-8 or 9-7 AFC West team could be awarded the opportunity to possibly luck themselves into the Super Bowl for the mere reason that the NFL, like all sports, feels the need to make divisions based on geographic proximity, and awards teams that win those divisions playoff berths.

While many fans might argue that divisions make for exciting rivalries, it clearly violates the spirit of "best teams vying for the championship." Plus, some of these teams play in divisions that are woefully bad. While this isn't the fault of anyone, this is an inherent flaw in the system. Thus, here's how the playoff picture works out:

The superior 5th-seed Atlanta Falcons will play the very lucky 4th-seed Arizona Cardinals (9-7), who played in a division that included the 49ers (7-9), Seahawks (4-12), and Rams (2-14). The NFC West's winning percentage was .343. Is this some kind of record? Meanwhile, the Falcons come from the NFC South, a division that had a .625 winning percentage. All the teams played .500 or above. Uh, Falcons win this game easy. Start placing your bets.

Then you have the 6th-seed Eagles (9-6-1), who I didn't think was worth a damn all season but they get to play the 3rd-seed Vikings (10-6). The Vikings played in a division with the Lions, who just made history going 0-16. The NFC North went a lowly .390, while the Eagles' NFC East division went .593, and also had all the teams get .500 or better. While the Eagles are no world beaters, they are certainly better than the suspect Vikings.

In the AFC, it's not really better. I think the 3rd-seed Dolphins are a good story, and they won a fairly tough division (.593) this year, but they have to face off against the 6th-seed Ravens, who already beat them this season. The Ravens defense is pretty much back to their very stingy selves, and while they didn't win very many big games (I would say this amounts to about 0 considering their big wins were the Dolphins and Eagles, both only could be considered "big" after the fact) and played in a suspect division (.484), they should be able to beat this team again. This might be the best game of the Wild Card round, but the Ravens win this handily.

And then, you have this awful matchup with either the 5th-seed Colts against the 4th-seed Broncos or Chargers. The AFC South was .593 and the horrible AFC West will go .359 after this game is played. While the Chargers have played the Colts tough in the past two games (including last year's playoff matchup that the Chargers won), I think the Colts have been playing a version of possum all year. Peyton Manning has been playing hurt and they still have been offing fools. And if it's the Broncos, forget it. The Colts own the Broncos.

I don't think there's any doubt what the Divisional Playoffs will look like:

Ravens-Titans (OH BROTHER!)

And what the hell...why not pick the Championship Games?

I think the Giants will take care of the upstart Falcons, and the Panthers will dispose of the Eagles. It will be a rematch of the Week 16 game that the Giants won, which means the Panthers will find a way to learn from their mistakes and win that game and go to the Super Bowl.

In the AFC, I worry that the Titans and Colts played way too conservatively in Week 17. This seems to be a loser's tactic, although it will affect the Titans more than the Colts, who will luck out on whoever they play, and they get to play immediately next week. The Titans will officially have no real competitive football for two weeks after this meaningless Colts game today, and then they'll have to face a Ravens team that they barely beat earlier in the season (should the Ravens take care of business like I think they will). After that impressive win over the Steelers, the Titans shot themselves in the foot today by playing it safe. Both teams should have come out to play because it seems like the teams that play it safe at the end of the year end up losing in the playoffs.

So unfortunately I think the Ravens beat the Titans and the Steelers beat the Colts, setting up an amazing, intriguing 3rd game between the AFC North foes. It's a toss-up, but I think the Steelers will win that game. The Colts needed a comeback to win in the regular season, but I wouldn't be shocked if they soundly beat the Steelers, either. Anyway, I think Steelers.

So Steelers-Panthers? Eh. Dunno about that. I wouldn't be surprised if the Colts make it, because they've played so strangely all year and won 9 in a row to finish the season.

I obviously hope the Titans make it, and I've been down on them for a long portion of this year, and sometimes they've surprised, but I just don't see it. I think the only way they get close is if the Dolphins beat the Ravens and then the AFC West team upsets the Colts. This would clear out the Titans' tougher matchups down the road. They would play (likely the Chargers as I write this) while the Steelers would get the Dolphins. Then the Steelers and Titans would likely advance, and I think the Titans have a much better chance of beating the Steelers than they do against the Ravens or Colts.

And what if my childhood team the Falcons makes it against the Titans? Wow! I would like to say I can't lose, but I certainly can. I haven't been a Falcons fan for a long time.



At 12/28/2008 09:52:00 PM, Blogger Mike said...

I was thinking something very similar. It's an outrage that a .500 team will go on, while the Pats will not (and have the football gods crapped on their face, or what). I know who I'd rather the Titans play in the playoffs!

I hate the four team divisions. This type of a season was going to happen one of these years, and it will happen again; it's a mathematical certainty. But I don't think there's any way to do it, except make four divisions of eight teams, and play everybody in your division once. I think that could work, but it would never be approved.

So, I'd put in this rule: IF YOU DO NOT WIN NINE GAMES, YOU DO NOT MAKE THE PLAYOFFS. Unless there aren't enough teams, which is unlikely. If that means a team has to switch conferences for the playoffs because six teams haven't made the cut, so be it.

Okay, that will never be approved either, but it'd make it a much better league. This year, New England would make it instead of the Chargers, and the Cardinals and Eagles would have just barely made it.

At 12/28/2008 11:48:00 PM, Blogger Chris said...

The other stupid thing I didn't mention is this nonsense that if you're the division winner, you automatically get a home game.

So the 12-4 Colts have to travel to the 8-8 Chargers, despite clearly being the better team. This is the most ridiculous one, but you also have the 11-5 Falcons traveling to the 9-7 Cardinals.

I think the NFL might have realized the stupidity of this division winner system when they made this odd rule. I think their instincts told them that some Wild Card teams are actually better than the division winners, but since "division winner" seems to denote "superiority," they couldn't quite bring themselves to give the "Wild Card" a home game.

And then they couldn't justify "division winner" as being special at all when cases like the Patriots come around.

Here's another oddity: Had the Dolphins lost, the Patriots would have taken the 3-seed! So, they went from 3-seed-worthy to not even in the playoffs once the Dolphins won.

At 12/29/2008 09:35:00 AM, Blogger Kennelworthy said...

Well, it is very telling that all four road teams are favored this coming weekend... Indy, Baltimore, Atlanta, & Philly. That tells me that half the division winners are stinkers this year. Half... well, maybe not Miami. They're not stinkers.

You could have picked playoff teams from only four divisions and had it contain all the best teams. NFC East, NFC South, AFC South, AFC East. Boom. You're done. All the teams that have a realistic shot are coming out of one of those four. Everyone else is "just happy to be here."

At 12/29/2008 10:45:00 AM, Blogger Mike said...

Another in playoff silliness was the Falcons just barely missing the two seed, and then getting the five seed. Not quite right.

Let's expand by eight teams and have five in each division! But that wouldn't work, either. Ughh, what is the answer to this...

At 12/29/2008 12:17:00 PM, Blogger John B said...

I think they should just abandon the playoff system. There should only be one postseason game per team. The Super Bowl would be played by teams that are selected by newspaper writers and by HAL from 2001: a Space Odyssey. HAL will calculate not only the ability and will of the teams' fans to travel, but will also look at how much revenue each team would bring in.

This is obviously the only way to select a true champion.


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