Wednesday, November 26, 2014

No, Do NOT Realign The NFL Playoffs

Look, I've always been one for changing things up.  Just go through this blog from ... I dunno ... 2004 until now and you will see me realigning divisions, conferences and playoffs.  So I'm not that old guy that wants everything to stay the same.

However, I'm not big on this talk of the NFL realigning their playoff format.

A little background.

Right now, the AFC North has the Bengals at 7-3-1 while the Browns, Steelers and Ravens all sit at 7-4.  One of those teams are guaranteed to miss the playoffs.  Depending on what the Chargers and Chiefs do in the AFC West, two or all three of those 2nd place teams will miss the postseason.

Meanwhile, the first place team in the NFC South is the Atlanta Falcons with a record of 4-7.  Barring either they or the Saints going 4-1 the rest of the way, the division champion will most likely have a losing record.

Yes, the 4-7 team has a better shot at the postseason than the 7-4 teams.  And, guess what?  That 4-7 squad will actually host a first round playoff game!  Is it fair?  Probably not.  Those Falcons are not a playoff caliber team and the Browns, Steelers and Ravens are much more deserving.  But that's the way it is laid out right now.

I'm fine with that.

Every once in a while this kind of thing happens.  These divisions are, for the most part, created due to geography.  Right now, all the southern teams in the NFC suck.  But one of them will win.  They have to.

The Seahawks went to the playoffs with a 7-9 record in 2010.  So it has happened.  Oh, and that Seattle team would win their first round playoff game ... at home ... against the New Orleans Saints.  Those Saints were 11-5 and had to go on the road to face a 7-9 team.  In fact, those playoffs saw the road team have more wins than the home team in 3 of the 4 first round games.  That lousy Seattle team was the lone home team to win.  Go figure.

At least N'Awlins had a chance.  The 10-6 Giants and Buccaneers both missed the playoffs while those Seahawks got in.  It's just the way it is.

And I'm fine with that on several levels.  More on that later.

Right now, people are so upset that the Falcons will be in the playoffs that some in the media are calling for changing the playoff format ... even as far as just taking all the conference teams and seeding them regardless of division.  That is a horrible idea.

Horrible idea.

Sure, this is quite an abnormal situation.  Those Seahawks were the lone sub-.500 team to make the playoffs.  The Falcons or Saints will most likely join that list.  So why change everything for this rarity?

In fact, let's look it the other way.  What if there was a change?  What if we did go by that whole "just rank the whole conference" like they do in the NHL or NBA?  Let's look at the effects.

Yes, the six teams with the best records would make the playoffs.  That would mean the NFC would look like this:

1-Cardinals (9-2), 2-Packers (8-3), 3-Eagles (8-3), 4-Cowboys (8-3), Seahawks (7-4) and Lions (7-4).

Yeah, that looks better for this year.  But over in the AFC, there wouldn't be much of a change at all.  The same six teams would be in and the Ravens and Steelers would still be out.  So other than helping the Detroit Lions, it didn't do a thing for the AFC North teams.

And unlike most other sports, the NFL has a weighted schedule.  Meaning you play each division foe twice and each opponent in one NFC and AFC division once.  Well, if you are in a tough division where everyone is beating each other, that champ may be 9-7 or 10-6 once the season is over.  What if there was a team in a bad division that had one more win than that division champ and gets in?  Under the format people are offering, that would happen.

Last year, for instance, the 10-6 Cardinals would've made the playoffs over the NFC North champion Packers (8-7-1).  Sure, the NFC West was blazing, but the NFC North wasn't bad.  The Cardinals got to face each team in the no-very-good AFC South that season while the Packers had to play the AFC North.

I know, I know.  The NFL has these sorts of things happen when sorting out wildcard teams ... but why punish a division champion that way?  With four four-team divisions, this kind of stuff happens.  It has happened in the NBA and NHL.  I love that the NFL has it where you win your division, you host playoff games.  Heck the champion of the SWAC makes the NCAA tournament ahead of a bubble team from a major conference.

Now, is your problem with who is hosting playoff games?  Well I don't think the NFL will change that for a couple of reasons.  One is the spread out nature of the playoffs.  Last year, the first round was held in Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Green Bay and Cincinnati with the second round in New England, Charlotte, Denver and Seattle.  Plus, having a road team better than the home team can make for some much better first round games, eh?

Last season, only the Bengals had more wins than their road opponent (Chargers).  Oh, the Chargers won that game.  Three road teams won their game in the first round.  Only one road team won in the rest of the playoffs (49ers over Panthers in the 2nd round).

I say keep it the same way.  I like it.

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