The NFL does have a playoff format problem. In short, the weakest playoff team that qualifies, under our present 6 team conference playoff system, based upon wins & losses, is lowering the NFL playoff standard. For example, it is quite possible for a division winner to qualify for the playoffs with an a 7-9 or 8-8 win loss record under our present system. It is also quite possible for a wild card qualifier, to be on a downward spiral, thereby backing into the playoff picture. Neither situation is good for the NFL as teams with either better records, or greater viewer interest, for one reason or another, either are, or could be, left on the outside of the of our playoff tournament format. The division winner also demands a home playoff game, based upon winning their division, to which I agree, but that game should happen the week before our present wild card weekend, if they are the weakest playoff qualifier.
There is another problem that was clearly outlined this year with the New Orleans Saints 0-4 start. It seems like year after year, the hottest team in the last half of the season, that finally got it together, could potentially miss the playoffs where teams that have gone cold, back into the tournament. In a 16 game season, one game, especially at the end of the year could put the hottest NFL commodity on ice, which is never a good idea. Regardless of team affiliation, fans are ravenous for the underdog that rises up from the ashes and that is always good for the NFL.
A solution to this dilemma, for each conference, is to pair the weakest won-loss 6 seed qualifier against the hottest 2nd half team, based upon the won-loss record, and the final eight games of the season. This change would certainly stop teams from packing it in looking forward to next years draft pick order. This game would be played at the weakest 6-seed qualifiers venue, based upon wins & loses, ensuring that team a home game if they were the division winner. The primary penalty for being the weakest seed qualifier, of course, is having to play an extra game to get to the Super Bowl, which in itself is an overwhelming factor. For that 7th team, they still have a shot to revive their chance at destiny. The winner of that contest would move on to play the 3rd seed on what is now called the wild card weekend which now pits division winners versus wild card teams The key advantage is that the 5th wild card seed would end up with a home playoff game, if the 4th seed won-loss record, at the end of the season, was worse than the record of the 6th seed. Note that the 4th seed Division winner is only guaranteed 1 home game. After week 2, the normal seeding rules apply.
One key advantage is that teams that play on what is now the Wild Card Weekend would have the advantage of having a bye week to allow their bodies to restore themselves, after the brutal 16 week season, raising the overall competition level with the highest seeds. The two (2) week layoff for the top four (4) playoff qualifiers for both conferences would also add a great deal of interest for numerous reasons. Did the layoff force the team to lose focus ... to lose its edge ... or did they just simply get beat? Two (2) weeks off is a great advantage in regard to allowing your body to restore itself, which could also mean the potential for stellar play ... a great thing for the NFL.
There is also the anticipation factor for fans having a longer period of time to wait to see your team play versus the interest of who you might now be playing. Before, your team might have had an easier road to the Super Bowl facing the weakest Division Winner. Now, not so much. Imagine the #1 seed having to face the hottest team of the last half of the season. Now, it could happen. The two week layoff between the championship game & Super Bowl may be a wasted resource as compared to potential of stellar play. Too often, in that wild card weekend, we've seen too many depleted teams, beaten down by the season, having to cope without that vital bye week. The idea or the intent is to build to the crescendo, never ceasing, to the ultimate climax (Super Bowl).
Do I think we should expand to a 16 team playoff format? No! Although I'd relish to see the bye-week teams having to play on the first week of the playoff, thereby leveling the playing field, the additional teams would dilute the purpose of our present playoff system. This isn't the NHL where just about everyone qualifies for the playoffs. However there is a definite format imbalance in the present NFL playoff format and it should be addressed.
DRAFT ORDER QUALIFIERS:
The NFL Draft order is way too important to a franchise to risk winning a game putting you into a tie breaker situation in next years draft ... without prior guarantees, before making that move to win any game. Last year, a Viking's victory moved us from 2nd to 3rd in the draft, which actually turned out fairly well for this franchise, however you don't want to have teams losing for the sake of draft order in the final three (3) weeks of the season, as it's way too important in determining final playoff order.
Say you have a team in one of those final three weeks standing on a potential 2-14 season, where one victory could drop them from 1st pick in the draft to 3rd or 4th, due to tie breakers. If the team they beat moves from 6th seed to 10th seed as a playoff qualifier, thereby knocking them out of the playoff, this should count for something for that 2-14 team. In other words, these four seeding spots is something to play for, which if they win the game, should be counted first toward any draft order tie breaker.
A 2-14 or 3-13 teams are going to lose games because they are not very good teams however at the end of the year, playoff teams weaken where lesser teams have the ability to upset them, especially if the playoff team is planning to rest players. Too often, teams appear to be mailing it in at the end of the season or when they appear to be out of playoff contention. There is nothing like reviving a team into a spoiler mode with purpose. At present, it's the last part of this statement that's missing.
The Viking Ghost Writer
Date: December 18. 2012