August 17, 2011

Who dat?
When the playoffs began last year, the 7-9 Seahawks opened the postseason at home hosting the 11-5 defending champion New Orleans Saints. 

Let's say that again. In the playoffs, the Seahawks, with a losing record, opened the playoffs at HOME, hosting an 11-5 team. It is immediately obvious that whatever system came up with this matchup is clearly broken. 

In the offseason the NFL Competition Committee came back with some new rules to fix this. Just kidding, instead they moved the kickoff to the 35 yard line (going to result in two to three times more touchbacks) and made ALL scoring plays automatically under review by the officials. Way to go NFL. 

Since they apparently don't see an issue with the playoffs, then let me tell you what's wrong with it. 

1. Divisions are Screwy

There are 8 divisions with 4 teams each. The winner of each division is guaranteed not only a playoff spot but a home playoff game. This means that a losing team, such as the 2010 Seahawks, can finish 7-9 or even worse, and win their division and host a playoff game. Well, they won the division, they earned it. Really? They went 7-9, playing in a division with the 7-9 Rams, 6-10 49ers, and 5-11 Cardinals. Their division as a whole went 25-39. The New Orleans Saints finished 11-5 playing in a division the Falcons won at 13-3, and with the Buccaneers who missed the playoffs at 10-6 (and the dismal 2-14 Panthers). The NFC South as a division went 36-28 (with half of those losses from just the Panthers). So the reward for the 7-9 winner of a losing division is a home playoff game against a team that went 11-5 in a division that went 36-28?

Basically, the Saints were punished for playing in a tough division and the Seahawks were rewarded for playing in a shitty division. 

While the losing Seahawks were playing at home in the playoffs the following teams were at home watching because they missed the playoffs:

These guys clearly belong in the playoffs.
8-8 Raiders
8-8 Jaguars
9-7 Chargers
10-6 Giants
10-6 Buccaneers

Know who else was 10-6? Oh yeah the Packers. They got in over the Giants and Bucs thanks to a tie-breaker formula...

The Seahawks played 8 regular season games against teams that finished 8-8 or better. Their record in those games?  2-6

This madness is not a fluke.

"Go deep!" He yells at the fullback. 
In 2008, The Patriots finished 11-5, but the 11-5 Dolphins won the division via a tie-breaker. Jets finished 9-7, the Bills went 7-9. The AFC East finished 38-26. 

The Chargers won the AFC West at 8-8, via tie-breaker over the 8-8 Broncos. Raiders were 5-11, Chiefs were 2-14. The AFC West finished 23-41. 

Which team deserves a playoff spot? The 8-8 Chargers, who finished 8-8 playing in a division that finished 16 games below .500? Or the 11-5 Patriots who played in a division that finished 12 games above .500?

Not only did the Chargers get in and the Patriots didn't (and four 9-7 teams), the Chargers opened the playoffs at home, hosting the 12-4 Indianapolis Colts, who were a wildcard because they played in the same division as the 13-3 Titans. 

Once again, automatic rewards for division winners punishes teams that play in good divisions and rewards teams that play in shitty ones. 

2. At the end of the year, some teams have nothing to play for.

Painter shows off his accuracy. 
In 2009, the Colts got to 14-0 and had the AFC's #1 seed sewn up. They sat down their starters for the last 2 games and lost them both. No big deal right? They were winning against the Jets when the starters came out, The Curtis Painter Express came in and blew the lead. The Jets would go on to beat the Colts JV team, finish 9-7 and make the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Texans also finished 9-7 (having lost to the Varsity Colts twice) and missed the playoffs. If the Colts had something to play for, Manning would have finished the game. The Jets go 8-8, the Texans get their first playoff berth. We simply can't have teams treating the last two weeks of the season as preseason games.

3. Byes are Bullshit
The Breast Cancer Awareness Sweet Sixteen. 

The first round bye has become a staple of the NFL so it's rarely questioned, but let me show you why it sucks. 

A. No team should be given a free pass. I don't care if you went 16-0, you don't get a free pass to the second round. The NCAA should just put the #1 seeds into the sweet sixteen. They deserve it. Bullshit. 

B. Earning a first round bye often means a team hasn't played a meaningful game in a while. Maybe the last few weeks of the regular season, then the first round of the playoffs. Then they have to turn it on and play real football. Guess who they are playing against: a team that has already won a playoff game and has probably been playing for their lives for the last weeks of the season. By definition, the first round bye guarantees that the visiting team comes in with the momentum. They do get some rest, but what's more important? Momentum, continuity, and playoff experience, OR a week off and home field advantage? Hard to say. 

4 of the last 6 Super Bowl Winners did not have a first round bye. 

2005 Steelers 
Won the Lombardi Trophy from a wildcard spot. They opened the playoffs at the Bengals. Carson Palmer blows out his knee in the first quarter. The Steelers win 31-17. They then go to Indianapolis to face the #1 seed, the 14-2 Colts, who don't have momentum or a playoff win to build on. They go into the RCA dome and win 21-18. The Colts offense never really gets going. 

2006 Colts 
Won the Super Bowl from the 3 seed, no bye. They opened the playoffs against the Chiefs who limped into the RCA dome and lost 23-8. The Colts then go to Baltimore to play the Ravens. Colts win 15-6. The Ravens offense never gets going. 

2007 Giants
Won the super bowl from a wildcard spot. They finished 10-6 in a tough NFC East that looked like this:

13-3 Cowboys
10-6 Giants
9-7 Redskins
8-8 Eagles

Only the Eagles missed the playoffs of the bunch. The Cowboys got a bye. The Giants went to Tampa to play the 9-7 Bucs who won a poor NFC South that finished 27-37. 

Giants beat the Bucs and then travel to Dallas to play the #1 seed Cowboys. The Giants come in with momentum and and beat Dallas 21-17. They'd go on to beat the Packers in Lambeau and the undefeated Patriots. 

The Steelers win the Super Bowl from the 2 seed with a bye. But who did they face? The Arizona Cardinals (who very nearly won the Super Bowl). 

The 2008 Cardinals won a bad NFC West at 9-7. The division as a whole went 22-42. They opened the playoffs in round 1 at home against the 11-5 Falcons who didn't win their division because the Panthers went 12-4 (The Bucs went 9-7 and the Saints went 8-8 for a division record of 40-24). 

The Cardinals manage to upset the Falcons and move on. They face the Panthers who gave them the game on a platter, then they hosted the NFC title game against Philly who had a better record than them, but didn't win their division (read: played in a tougher division). 

So the Cardinals play in a shitty division, and win it, and get 2 playoff home games against teams with better records who played in tougher divisions, and beat a team with a bye because they completely choked and had no momentum...Are we sensing a pattern. 
Go Barnstormers.

The #1 seeds in 2008 were the 12-4 Giants and 13-3 Titans. How'd they fare in their opening playoff games at home in round 2 after a bye? They scored a combined 21 points. Their offenses never really got going. 

The Packers won the super bowl from a wild card spot. 

So take that all in, then tell me that it's better to have a week off than it is to have momentum and to already have won a playoff game. 

The first round bye rewards great teams with a free pass to round 2, which ends up being a handicap in many cases. Then it punishes lesser teams by making them play an extra playoff game, which ends up giving them an easier first matchup and momentum going into round 2. 

The Field General

So those are the problems with the way the playoffs are set up now. How can it be fixed?

Expand the Playoffs to 16 teams. Seed them 1-16, regardless of division or conference. Go. 

1. A team could win its division at 7-9, and unless it's in the top 16, it misses the playoffs, and rightly so. This problem is solved, plus they won't be guaranteed home games. In '08, the 8-8 Chargers made the playoffs while the 11-5 Patriots and FOUR 9-7 teams missed the playoffs. This problem is solved.

16 and d'oh

2. Teams always have something to play for. Even in 2009 when the Saints and Colts ran away with the regular season, they would still have been competing with each other for the #1 seed. No more of those JV games. 

3. No Bye. No more easy opening playoff wins for lesser teams. Instead, the best teams are rewarded with the easiest first playoff games. The 16 seed has to go to the 1 seed. 

The Great AFC/NFC Rivalry

4. The Super Bowl is no longer AFC vs. NFC. 

BUT, shouldn't the Super Bowl pit the 2 best teams against each other? Instead, we get the best AFC team against the best NFC team. It's roughly a 50-50 proposition that the 2 best teams would be in the same conference or in opposite conferences. Put it another way: We could've had 49ers vs. Cowboys Super Bowls in the 90's. Steelers vs. Dolphins in the 70's. Colts vs. Patriots in the 00's.

5. More playoff teams!? That makes the regular season mean less!

Does it?
The NFL Tie-breaking formula. 

In 2008, 15 teams finished 9-7 or better. 4 of them didn't make the playoffs, while the 8-8 Chargers made it. The current system waters down the regular season by allowing bullshit like that to happen. Plus, in any given year, the 12 playoff teams will include some 9-7 teams, while a few 9-7 teams don't make it because they lost out on tie-breakers because of their Divisional Record or Conference Record or point differential. We are letting tie-breakers decide who moves on, and you're saying that adding 4 more playoff games and deciding things on the field would make the season matter less?

6. More Games

Remember before the lockout when the NFL wanted to add more games to the season and it looked like an 18 game season was a real possibility? Then that issue disappeared during the lockout. Well, here's a proposal that adds 4 playoff games, makes more games at the end of the season matter (since more of the playoff teams will have something to play for, plus 4 more spots means more teams fighting for their playoff lives).

Here's how the 2010-11 Playoffs would have looked in this system. 


1 Patriots 14-2
2 Falcons 13-3
3 Steelers 12-4
4 Ravens 12-4
5 Jets 11-5
6 Saints 11-5
7 Bears 11-5
8 Packers 10-6
9 Eagles 10-6
10 Giants 10-6
11 Colts 10-6
12 Buccaneers 10-6
13 Chiefs 10-6
14 Charger 9-7
15 Jaguars 8-8
16 Raiders 8-8

17 Dolphins
18 Seahawks
19 Rams

I've chosen to break ties by giving the tie to the team that finished LOWER in its division. For example, the Jets, Saints, and Bears all finished 11-5. But the Jets played in the AFC East with the 14-2 Pats, the Saints played in the NFC South with the 13-3 Falcons, while the Bears had the best record in their division. I have rewarded the teams that played in tougher divisions. 

And if you think 16 playoff teams will lead to a lot of 7-9 or worse playoff teams, I've done the math.

Stupid Texans, ruining my stats. 
Here's how many teams finished 8-8 or better each of the last 10 years:
2010 16
2009 20
2008 21
2007 16
2006 20
2005 18
2004 17
2003 16
2002 19 (12 of the 16 AFC teams)
2001 15 (Only 31 teams in the league at the time)

So under my plan only 2001 when the Texans didn't yet exist did a 7-9 team sneak in. Even if a 7-9 team snuck in they won't get a home playoff game, no, they go on the road to face the #1 seed. Good luck. 

One of the most common complaints to my concept is that abandoning division championships and ignoring conferences in the playoffs will lessen rivalries, and lead to matchups that have no history. So let's just see. 

2010 Playoffs Part Deux

Pick against the Raiders. It's called the Suck Rule.
16 Raiders at 1 Patriots

Have these two ever played before?  I'm taking the Pats. 

15 Jaguars at 2 Falcons
Newlyweds and their cake...

His Ball Cradling Skills are a 99 in Madden
These two apparently scrimmage against each other in training camp. Might be interesting. I'm taking the Falcons. 

14 Chargers at 3 Steelers

While the Chargers are talented, they struggled all year to stay consistent. But the Playoffs are one and done, and you know that old saying, on any given Sunday, Monday, Saturday, and sometimes Thursday... I'm picking the Steelers though. 

Lewis Shows Cassell his Moat. 

13 Chiefs at 4 Ravens

In reality, the Ravens were a wildcard team because they played in a tough division. In my system they are a top 4 team, and host the Chiefs instead of going to Arrowhead. If you watched that playoff game last year, then you know the Ravens deserved to have that game in their house, not the other way around. Ravens win. 

12 Bucs at 5 Jets

Notice the 12 seed Bucs missed the actual playoffs. Here instead they play the Jets with the chance for an upset. Jets win. 
Tiki Barber Fumbles AGAIN

11 Colts at 6 Saints

Do these two have any history?  Doesn't this make way more sense than sending the Saints to Seattle to play the 18 seed? 

10 Giants at 7 Bears

Da Bears. 

Insert Dog Fighting Joke.
Something about a Long-Haired Chihuahua?

9 Eagles at 8 Packers

This matchup actually happened, except it was in Philly. Packers win in either case. 

The Snatch


10 Giants at 1 Patriots

Would actual Giants beat actual Patriots? What if David faces Goliath, but David is called the Giants? And he has a football magnet on his head...What? Patriots I guess? Is this thing on?

Matty Ice should stick to Beer Pong

8 Packers at 2 Falcons

Packers at Falcons, which actually happened in round 2, and the Packers won. Now maybe the Packers won because they had the momentum, having already won a road playoff game, but I'm going to project a Packers upset that actually happened. 

Towel in the Breeze
6 Saints at 3 Steelers

I'm going to project the Steelers to win. The Saints weren't playing great down the stretch and lost at Seatlle in reality. 

Black Spiderman?

5 Jets at 4 Ravens

Rex Ryan versus his old team. In reality, round 2 had the Jets knocking the Patriots out while the Ravens fell to the Steelers. I'm going to project a Jets victory here, but that would have been a great game. 

Round 3. 
Notice, it's possible to have a Patriots Steelers or Patriots Jets super bowl. 

Pictured: Reggie White attempting to invent Tom Brady
8 Packers at 1 Patriots
See, a flaw in my plan. These two have never played a meaningful game before. In reality, the Pats lost because the Jets figured them out and got to Brady. Do the Packers accomplish that? Looks like a shootout between Brady and Rodgers. Hard to say.

This is how Yoda does push-ups

5 Jets at 3 Steelers

Jets and Steelers was the actual AFC championship game and the Steelers won 24-19. So let's project a Steelers win. 

That makes the Super bowl either Steelers vs. Patriots or Steelers vs. Packers. 

Either way I'm watching. And so are you. 

Potential Criticisms:

1. Divisions don't matter!!!

The Thrill of Victory
Yeah, and, so what? Do people really care that much about division titles? This is one area where American Sports and European Soccer leagues differ greatly. Premier leagues tend to have several championships, one for the regular season champs, one for a the winner of a playoff, and then there's the champions league, etc. When a team can sweep all 3 or more championships, that's how you know they're dominant. In American sports, nobody really gives a shit if a team has the best regular season record. In the NHL there's the President's Trophy, given to the team with the best regular season record. But if a team fails to win the Stanley Cup, you won't hear a player say, "yeah but at least we won the President's trophy." Instead it's embarassing to them that they didn't go on to win the cup. Each conference champion is given a trophy, the Prince of Wales Trophy for the East and the Clarence S. Campbell Trophy for the West. It's considered bad luck to even touch the trophies when the team wins them. You shake the guys hand, take a picture (trying to look as unimpressed as possible), then you go try to win the cup. It's because in America we care only about winning the whole damn thing. All or nothing. So does anyone really give a shit if the Chiefs won the AFC West? No. 

Okay, well, the division championships don't matter, but what about rivalries, if they don't compete for a division title, then why be rivals?

Well, it's true that they won't be directly competing for a division title, but the teams would still play each other twice a year, every year, and that's how rivalries are born. It's not about which column on the standings sheets teams are in, it's about meeting on a regular basis. 

2. Letting in more Playoff teams will dilute the regular season.
You Play to Win The Playoffs!?

Will it? I already mentioned above that every year there will be ties of 9-7 or 10-6 teams that end up being settled by a tie-breaking formula. Why let a formula decide who goes home? Decide it on the field. Every team already knows going into the season that they need to win 10 or 11 games to make the playoffs. That's usually enough. Every few years a 10 win or 11 win team will miss the playoffs because of a tiebreaker. Which way is unfair? To me, sending an 11 win team home because of a formula dilutes the meaning of the regular season. 

I originally suggested this playoff revamping last year on and was quickly downvoted. Several people criticized the move from 12 to 16  teams. In my proposal, I decried the possibility of a 7-9 division winner getting a home game a few months before it actually happened. There was this response: 

"A 7-9 team has never happened before, and while it is feasibly possible, the odds are very, very low.

I enjoy divisional competition throughout the season. The goal should be to just be better then your team in your division; this creates great rivalries."

It's opinions like this that keep us from preventing foreseeable problems. "Well it's never happened before, therefore it probably won't happen." And really? The goal for a team is to be the best team in its division. There's 32 teams in the league, and your goal is to be better than 3 particular teams you happen to play twice? Come on man. 

Follow this link to see Bleacher Report make my case for me while they do some mental gymnastics. NFL Playoffs: Get Over It, 7-9 Teams Deserve To Make the Postseason

I'll leave you with a final thought. 

What if instead of automatically matching up the seeds (16 vs. 1, 15 vs. 2, etc.), what if there was a draft. The 1 seed picks their opponent. Then the 2 seed picks their opponent and so on. Twitter would explode. 

1 comment:

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