The Sweet Thirteen

January 2th, 2004 2014

I've posted on here a few times now about the NFL's playoff system and all the ways I think it sucks. Let me boil it down real quick.

Having only 4 teams in each division makes it so that you will have 7-9 and 8-8 teams win a division some of the time, and 9-7 quite regularly. When you guarantee a home playoff game to each of the divisions, that ends up with things like the 11-5 Patriots missing the playoffs entirely while the 8-8 Chargers not only get in the playoffs but play at home against a team that went 12-4, as it actually happened in 2008. Basically, if you guarantee home playoff game to division winners, you're discriminating against teams because they play in good divisions. The 2010 Saints went 11-5 but had to go on the road against the 7-9 Seahawks. Why are we rewarding teams that are in shitty divisions and punishing teams that have a really good record but happen to be in the same division as another team with the same record?

So, I've proposed eliminating the reward for winning your division, perhaps stipulating that if no team in a division 9-7 or better, then that division's spot becomes a wild-card. OR just ranking teams and forgetting about who wins a division. The argument against this is that divisions wouldn't matter and nobody would care about division titles. To that I people care a lot now about division titles? I think they care about getting into the playoffs. Do people care about conference titles? It's super bowl or bust isn't it?

You can also change the divisions up. If you have 5 teams in a division, then the odds of a 7-9 team winning a division are astronomical. If you look through the standings from 90s to 2001 when they switched from 6 to 8 divisions, you'll find that almost every single division winner is 10-6 or better, because having 5 teams to choose from makes the likelihood of one of those teams being quite good, quite high. I found only two instances of a 9-7 team winning a division, and one of those was in a 4-team division, and the other happened in a division in which 4 of the 5 teams were 8-8 or 9-7 (i.e. the wins were just too well divided up, and change a game here or there and one of those teams gets to 10 wins). The problem is that with 32 teams you can't easily have any other divisional setup, other than 4 5-team divisions and 2 6-team divisions. You could go to 36 teams (London, LA...), and go to 6 6-team divisions, but that many teams means you would play 10 divisional games, leaving only 6 left, not great for scheduling (unless you add games...).

I've also argued for the elimination of the AFC-NFC split in the playoff system. What is with all this arbitrary splitting up of teams into conferences and divisions? Sure there's some history to it, but it's not like the AFC and NFC are all that distinct. Why does the title game have to be a battle between an AFC and an NFC team? Why not just have the best two teams? Think back to all those blowout Super Bowls we had because the NFC was so dominant. Why arbitrarily draw a line and say one super bowl team has to come from each side of the line?

Our current system often results in situations where teams know too much about their playoff seeding ahead of time. This year is a great example. Because the Chiefs are in the same division as the Broncos, they knew after week 16 that they could not catch the Broncos, but at 11-4, they also knew they were far and away better than any other wildcard team. Theoretically, the Chiefs could have known they were locked into the #5 seed with 2 or even 3 games to play. Since the Chiefs had nothing at all to play for, they rested their starters and ended up losing a close game. This let the San Diego Chargers into the playoffs, while had the Chiefs had something to play for, they probably beat San Diego, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are in the playoffs instead. The Steelers are at home right now because the Chiefs knew they couldn't improve their playoff seeding.

I have argued in the past for a 16-team tournament, but the main criticism is that it makes the regular season matter less. I counter this by pointing out that the current system allows the team with the 5th best record to miss the playoffs while the team with the 19th best record can get in and get a home game (cough, Seahawks, cough). I also point out that the current 12-team playoff lets in 9-7 and 8-8 teams that get home games, while a simple 16-team tournament would indeed let in more 9-7 teams, but they would not be getting home games, and that the last teams looking in in our current system often have the same record as the last teams in, but happen to lose a tie-breaker like conference record ( we draw a line in the sand and look only at your record against teams on this side of the sand...for some reason). Basically, we're letting tie-breakers and stat columns decide who goes home and who goes to the playoffs.

But, I will concede that perhaps 16 is too far. Half the league is a bit much. There has been talk from Goodell of going to a 14-team playoff, with only 2 byes instead of 4, and letting in an extra wildcard. I'd like this change and think that's a good way of improving.

But instead, I'd like to present my own new fangled, too-crazy-to-work, playoff insanity tournament to go to the Super Bowl for make benefit the NFL's bank account.

So here's my proposal:

All NFL teams with a winning record get into the playoffs. That actually might be only 12 teams, or it could be 16, but usually the number will be between those two. So how do we make a bracket with 13 teams? You vary the number of byes to make it work.

Here's the 20132014 NFL Tournament, or the Sweet Thirteen.

#1 Seattle 13-3
#2 Denver 13-3
#3 Carolina 12-4
#4 New England 12-4
#5 San Fran 12-4
#6 Cincinnati 11-5
#7 Indianapolis 11-5
#8 New Orleans 11-5
#9 Kansas City 11-5
#10 Philadelphia 10-6
#11 Arizona 10-6
#12 San Diego 9-7
#13 Green Bay 8-7-1

Baltimore, Miami, Chicago, Dallas, Pittsburgh, Jets all just miss out at 8-8.

To make this work, we have 3 byes: Seattle, Denver, Carolina, leaving 5 wild-card weekend games 13 at 4, 12 at 5, 11 at 6, and so on.

Looking at those records, I want you to notice that in the real playoffs Arizona is out, while 8-7-1 Green Bay is not only in but is playing a home January playoff game at Lambeau field and hosting #5 San Francisco. The 49ers are having to go on the road to Lambeau as reward for having the 5th best record in the league. Does that seem in any way fair? #5 AT #13 makes no sense at all, and we have that matchup because of divisions.

Now actually, if this were the real playoff, then the Chiefs would not have rested starters and so they would have almost certainly won (since the backups played into OT and lost because of some bad refs...), which means the Chiefs would have been 12-4 and the Chargers 8-8. In other years you'll see teams at the top of their conference resting starters when in this sytem they would still be battling a team in the other conference for the #1 overall seed.

So let's look at this system with a Chiefs win:

#1 Seattle 13-3
#2 Denver 13-3
#3 Carolina 12-4
#4 New England 12-4
#5 San Fran 12-4
#6 Kansas City 12-4
#7 Cincinnati 11-5
#8 Indianapolis 11-5
#9 New Orleans 11-5
#10 Philadelphia 10-6
#11 Arizona 10-6
#12 Green Bay 8-7-1

With 12 teams in, we need 4 byes: Seattle, Denver, Carolina, New England.

Because of the unknown of how many byes there will be, that makes it much less likely for teams to KNOW if they have gotten a bye or not, as a change in the KC-SD game decides if it's 3 or 4 byes. In addition, Seattle and Denver wouldn't be able to rest starters if they wanted to grab the top seed.

So, we have 5 hosting 12, 6 hosting 11, and so on, right?


Being a top seed means you get to pick your opponent. That's right.

So we have a draft. Make a TV thing of it. The #5 49ers are on the clock and they have their choice of the bottom 4 teams. So San Fran, do you want to host the Saints, the Eagles, the Cardinals, or the Packers? They beat the Cardinals twice and now them well, but then again, they beat the Packers too. Maybe the Packers are better than their record when they have Rodgers back...Maybe you're more confident you can take out the Carson Palmer Cardinals...

#5 49ers select #11 Arizona Cardinals.

#6 Chiefs are on the clock. Who do you want coming to Arrowhead, the Saints, the Eagles, or the Packers. The Saints are a different team away from the Superdome and Alex Smith has had playoff success against them. Then again, Andy Reid knows the Eagles better than anyone. That Chiefs defense shut down Rodgers and ended their perfect season a couple years ago.

#6 Chiefs select #10 Eagles

Alright Bengals, who do you want? Saints or Packers? Brees or Rodgers? That's a tough pick, and this shows how important it is to get a good record and get a top seed. #5 seed lets you pick Carson Palmer, at #7 you're picking between Brees and Rodgers...

Bengals decide that they'd rather go against Rodgers since he's banged up and has missed a lot of time.

#7 Bengals select #12 Packers.

The Colts have no choice.

#8 Colts will host the #9 Saints in a super bowl re-match.

Do we have enough interesting story-lines? Andy Reid confident he can beat Eagles. Colts-Saints rematch. 49ers and Cardinals in a divisional re-match, the last game at Candlestick.

I'm going to project these games using magical thinking

Cardinals 14
49ers 27

Palmer throws 5 too many INTs. 49ers offense struggles but the turnovers are all the difference.

Eagles 27
Chiefs 31

Chiefs finally break playoff curse. The Walrus has too much knowledge of that Eagle team to let them get by. Foles has a solid game, but Alex Smith and Jamaal Charles are just too much for that Eagle D.

Packers 23
Bengals 28

The Bengals break a playoff curse too. A.J. Green lights up the Packers D, Rodgers is good but not great in a tough road loss.

Saints 34
Colts 35

Brees and the Saints come out strong on the turf at Lucas Oil stadium, putting on quite an offensive show. But Luck storms back to take the lead with only seconds remaining, getting payback for that Super Bowl.

Round two:

Our four teams on bye:
#1 Seattle 13-3
#2 Denver 13-3
#3 Carolina 12-4
#4 New England 12-4

Now have their choice of meals:
#5 San Fran 12-4
#6 Kansas City 12-4
#7 Cincinnati 11-5
#8 Indianapolis 11-5

#1 Seattle picks first. They know they can beat the 49ers at home, but a recent loss at Candlestick stings a little too deep to make that ballsy pick. Luck and the Colts are the lowest seed but they also delivered one of the Seahawks three losses in the regular season. Who scares you more, Chiefs or Bengals?

#1 Seattle selects #7 Cincinnati.

Coach Carroll, why did you pick the Bengals? What about them makes you think you stand a good chance of beating them? Let the twitter-shit-fest begin. Maybe the Seahawks figure they can shut down A.J. Green with their secondary and would rather face the Bengals running game than Jamaal Charles.

#2 Denver, your turn.

Do you want the Colts who are one of the few teams to beat you in the regular season, and beat you bad? Maybe the Colts are too much of a ghost in Peyton's closet. Monkey in his back? Something like that. You've been the Chiefs twice...

#2 Denver selects #6 Kansas City

Panthers, who you got? 49ers or Colts? Tough call. they beat the 49ers at the Stick by a point, but maybe the Colts without Reggie Wayne aren't quite as scary. Then again, Luck's comeback ability is quite a threat.

Riverboat Ron takes the Colts.

#3 Panthers select #8 Colts

#4 Patriots will host #5 49ers

So we've got round two:
#1 Seahawks host #7 Bengals.
#2 Broncos host #6 Chiefs
#3 Panthers host #8 Colts
#4 Patriots host #5 49ers

Harbaugh vs. Belichick. Cam Newton vs. Andrew Luck. Chiefs v. Broncos III. Russell Wilson vs. gravity.

Bengals 13
Seahawks 31

That secondary is too much, Bengals don't stand a chance.

Chiefs 38
Broncos 34

The Broncos terrible defense really steps it up in the playoffs. Manning is great as always, but John Pussy Fox is too timid, kneeling before halftime, not going for close 4th downs, and playing not to lose rather than playing to win. Chiefs come out in a stunner.

Colts 23
Panthers 26 (OT)

Another comeback from Luck, but Cam Newton comes through in OT to send the Colts home.

49ers 18
Patriots 19

Close game where neither team can get it done in the red zone. Patriots squeak by in a game that makes both teams look bad.

Round Three:
#1 Seattle 13-3
#3 Carolina 12-4

#4 New England 12-4
#6 Kansas City 12-4

See how important that #3 seed was for Carolina and New England? Because the Panthers got the 3 and the Broncos lost, that lets the Panthers play both games at home before a possible trip to the Super Bowl, while the Pats have to go on the road.

Seahawks pick on Kansas City, figuring they'd rather face Andy Reid and Alex Smith than Belichick-Brady.

Chiefs at Seahawks
Patriots at Panthers

We have an old AFC West re-match, as well as Alex Smith going back to Seattle where he's lost many times before.

We also have a Super Bowl rematch. Cam Newton and Riverboat Ron might not remember it, but Brady sure as hell remembers winning a super bowl over these pussy cats.

Seahawks home-field advantage and defense are too much for the Chiefs. The Patriots offensive struggles are exacerbated by a tough Panther D.

Super Bowl:

Panthers vs. Seahawks

Two teams with no Super Bowl wins, one will break that drought. Who will rise up to join the elite QB club, will it be Cam Newton or Russell Wilson?

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