by Ryan Meehan
If you’re over the age of twenty, at some point in your life you’ve probably heard the phrase “Things have to get worse before they can get better”. It’s a theory that although completely contradictory in nature, makes a lot of sense when it comes to developing long-term solutions to short-term problems. When George W. Bush was re-elected in 2004, I tried to remain positive and tell myself that maybe it would seriously take another four years of this maniacal idiocy to finally bring our troops back home and set the new guy up for a slam dunk.
Okay, maybe that’s a bad example. But what happens when an alcoholic or a heroin addict finally makes the right decision to clean up his or her life and get sober? They do it because they hit rock bottom. When somebody has a gambling problem or the like, they have to go broke before they finally realize they can’t make the mortgage payment on a house because of the result of a Nashville Predators game. In other words, sometimes a given situation has to reach crisis point in order for it to be corrected.
In the NFL the moment where the current playoff structure goes from being a discussion in bars across the country to being a serious concern that the competition committee to look at is about two and a half weeks away. With the Saints and the Falcons atop the NFC South at 5-8, it is now mathematically impossible that a team with a winning record will win that division.
A majority of die-hard NFL fans – no matter who they root for – know this shit is wrong. I will continue to maintain my stance that if you don’t win more games than you lose, you don’t deserve to advance to the postseason in any sport. I don’t think that’s too much to ask. If you’re not winning more than you’re losing, there is no reason for us to watch you half-ass your way through more poor play that is an insult to your respective league’s product.
Not everybody agrees with me on this. Neil knows more about sports than about 95% of the people who do whatever the hell it is that we call this, and he is happy with the current divisional setup which guarantees that if you win your division you will get to host a playoff game. I understand his point and his reasoning for feeling this way, but I respectfully disagree because I think the most popular sports organization in this country can do better. Regardless of which side of the argument you find yourself when the smoke clears, there is one take that I am hearing a lot of on sports talk radio when the topic of that division is brought up. I’ve heard several hosts of good programs mention how they hope that the division winner wins every single game and finishes 8-8, either because they believe it will save face for the league or make them feel better about the playoff seeds once the postseason starts.
I disagree with those takes primarily because I think that the current system is broken. Having the eventual NFC South “champions” win out and finish at .500 would only make things worse. If we really want to see true street justice being served on teams who do not produce a playoff caliber product, we should hope that whoever ends up winning the division wins as few games as possible from here on out. That way, the competition committee will feel obligated to take a look at the ways they can remedy the ills of the current playoff system. If a 6-10 team wins the division, I would guess that they aren’t going to have much of a choice.
I say 6-10, because as most of you know the Falcons and the Saints will play next weekend and somebody will have to win that game. This weekend the Falcons have to play the Steelers (a game they could very easily lose) and although New Orleans plays the Bears Monday night, the way the Saints are playing at the moment they could probably lose to a fucking ice cream truck. So headed into that crucial week sixteen match-up, it’s very possible that both of these teams will be 5-9. It’s also possible that Carolina will beat Tampa (who is so bad they are in last place of this whole mess) which would put them at 5-8-1 – and then they’d be in first place. To further complicate matters, the Panthers will play the Falcons the last Sunday of the season.
By now you’re probably thinking: So how do you fix this problem? Hopefully I can answer that in a process that only involves a couple of simple steps.
1. Take away the home playoff game for the division winners and give them to the four teams in the conference who have the best record.
This is something that has been bothering me for a while now. To put this into perspective, I’ll use this season’s fiasco as an example because it’s so drastic. Let’s say for the sake of this argument that the Seattle Seahawks win the NFC West, the Packers win the North, and the Eagles take this game on Sunday night and eventually win the East. It doesn’t matter who wins the South, so let’s just say that it’s Carolina because that would be hilarious. Then there would only be two wild card teams that would play on the road, and the five seed would end up stuck playing in Carolina the first weekend of January.
Now here’s why this is a problem: Given the scenario that I had previously presented, there are those two wild card spots available for the following teams: Arizona, (11-3 although fading fast should be rewarded with a berth due to the way they played in the first ten weeks.) Detroit, (9-4 and playing very well but probably not going to catch the Packers) and Dallas. (9-4 and in my own personal opinion very worthy of making the postseason) Given the current playoff format, one of those three teams is not going to be playing in January. Since the Lions seem to be America’s hard luck team, let’s just assume that it’s them for the sake of an example I’ll use here shortly. All this of course while whoever wins the NFC South will not only make the playoffs, but also host a playoff game when if the Lions played in their division they be at least four games out of first place and eliminated by now.
So let’s say that the competition committee gets together and decides that this is something which needs to be rectified. Let’s also say that they go ahead and still allow division winners to make the playoffs, but take away the home game. This is really the first step towards making this work, but the next part of this will take some time. After this is implemented, some patience is required. Since this will be the second instance in five years that a sub-.500 team has made the playoffs, that’s exactly the amount of time we’ll give this to see if the league is in a place where the motivation to host a home playoff game is enough to cause teams to finish above .500. And if we still have once instance or more of a sub-.500 wins their division, this is exactly what we do:
2. From this point forward, you immediately only take the top six teams from every conference and everybody else can piss off.
Sounds harsh huh? But think about this for a second…How do you think a team like Detroit feels from the earlier example after a team which they are much better than gets to host a playoff game while they sit at home wondering where it all went wrong? To me, that’s harsh. That’s a slap in the face to a team that deserved to go to the postseason where another doesn’t, and although this may contradict what I’m about to say it’s just wrong. It’s not fair to the franchise, its owner, and everyone on the staff.
However, when the roles are reversed I’m not so sympathetic. If this particular rule would end up being adapted, it would be hard for me to shed a tear for a team who misses the playoffs because they didn’t make it for a good reason. Take for example Jerry Richardson, the majority stake owner of the Carolina Panthers. He’s a good guy, and he’s done a lot of work with an organization that is still technically in expansion status when you look at the rest of the really established teams in the league. But even if the Panthers win out, finish 7-8-1 and this rule just happened to be in place this season…I wouldn’t feel the least bit sorry for Jerry for two reasons: First off, his team did not end up winning more games that they lost. Therefore by basic definition of what it means to be a winner, a team like Detroit would go when they have and Carolina clearly hadn’t. The second reason?
Because Jerry Richardson is fucking stupid rich. He’s got so much money that if he wanted to eat koala for every single meal for the rest of his life until the day he died, he’d have enough money for seven generations after him to do the same. To put how rich he is into perspective, think of the wealthiest person you know. Picture all that they have done or inherited to get that money, and how confident they are with their status in life. Now picture a guy so well off that he could have the mob bring the guy you’re thinking of into his garage and have him burned alive solely for the sake of his own personal entertainment. That’s the kind of money you have if you own an NFL franchise at any level.
My point here is you would think that a man of that stature would be able to take not making the playoffs if his team didn’t play to a winning record without getting on a conference call with Commissar Dickhead and complaining about how unfair things are now as opposed to “how they used to be”. He would need to take it on the face, and that’s fine with me because the quarterly interest he earns on his wife’s checking account is more money than I will ever see in a lifetime.
Now I realize that the scenario that I have presented is not technically foolproof. If you want to get down to it, you could still take the top six teams out of every conference and if one conference has a really bad year in inter-conference match-ups you may still end up with a losing record team in sixth place. However it is very close to statistically impossible that would ever happen, so it’s not a realistic point of concern. I would even argue that in extreme instances where it would you would simply take the seven seed out of the opposite conference and place them in the six seed that the team with the losing record is currently occupying. The seven game playoff expansion that has been discussed over the past eighteen months would only further complicate the situation, but I think that whole angle is coming at some point. This leads me to a discussion that I became a part of on the radio just a couple of nights ago.
While I was on Sports with Neil and friends on KUGR Friday Night, Gibson brought up a really good alternative solution to this: His idea consisted of a potential play-in game the week between week 17 and Wild Card weekend. This game would consist of the division winner with the lowest winning percentage hosting the seven seed. This would be similar to the play-in game that Major League Baseball has implemented over the last few years, and I am actually heavily in favor of its proposal because I think it would be a great idea. One advantage would be that it would extend the NFL season another week, good news for all of us football fans.
Another set of advantages would include the facts that this would give the team who finished with a winning record a chance to prove that they are the ones who should advance in the postseason, (which in my opinion they have already done, but that is a moot point given this example) and after some time we would be able to see if the team with the better record wins a majority of those games. If they do, then it might be time to move to the more extreme proposal I mentioned earlier.
There are a few drawbacks to this concept. First off, the players association is going to fight off any additional games with swords drawn as they did with the proposition to extend the regular season to 18 games. And since for the most part they’ve already won that war, it’s going to be much easier for them to shoot this one down. Plus, although this would give us an extra game every year there would be no guarantee that either the sixth or seventh seeds would even have a losing record. This would render this potential match-up unnecessary, and would make the current playoff setup look sufficient. There’s also the possibility that the NFL ratings would suffer a severe dip in the end of the season arc by having a weekend where only two games were played. This works in the conference championship round, but only because the two teams that win those games are going to the Super Bowl. One could argue that the odds the quality of play in the play-in game could match that of the AFC and NFC Championship are very low. I could probably go on and on about the many reasons this will never materialize, but by this point in the article you already wish I was a well-plated koala.
The point of all of this is that this year, a team that will finish at .500 or lower will win the NFC South. That doesn’t bode well for the most popular American sport, and the team who ends up winning will get to host a playoff game. In my own personal opinion, that’s total horseshit. The team who wins that division this year (no matter who it is) will not possess nearly as much talent as the 7-9 Seahawks who advanced to the postseason and beat the Saints in 2010. But in order for everybody to see how wrong this is, the events that have led us to where we currently are needed to have happened. People need to open their eyes to an obvious problem in a sport where many believe the NFL is a perfect science. It’s not. Several things need to be changed, but I truly think that this is one that needs to be looked at first.
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