An Argument for Playoff Re-Seeding
Wednesday, 05 January 2011 19:25
With the dust finally settled on Week 17, the coaching carousel whirling is in full swing, and with players heading home after cleaning out their lockers, we finally know who the top 16 teams in the league are.
More or less.
This year’s playoffs includes the likes of New England, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Indianapolis, New Orleans, and Green Bay. What else is new? The NFL’s glitterati continue to make the playoffs, year after year. But this year, something else happened, something that might actually sway the uber-conservative owners sometime in the near future (any big format changes are unlikely due to the difficulties with the expiring CBA).
Seattle made the playoffs.
Whoopdedo. Seattle used to be good, remember? Back in the glory days of... well, no one remembers, but most people are pretty sure that Seattle used to be kind of good. We think. But this year, calling the Rainin’ Seahawks “good” is a stretch of even the most limber imagination.
They’re 7-9. Here is a team that lost a majority of its games, yet still made the playoffs. Actually, wait: not only did they make the playoffs, they are hosting a home game. Marinate on that for a second. A sub-500 team is hosting a team that won twelve games in the first round of the playoffs. That team, the New Orleans Saints, has to travel 2500 miles to play at Qwest Field.
I can hear the traditionalists now, yelling the same old apologies for 8-8 division winners getting home games stretching back to the AFL merger. And really, it was easy to agree with them, because 8-8 wasn’t so bad. 8-8 at least says, “we tried our very best!” Sub-500 is different. Totally different. Sub-500 is a poor team, plain and simple.
Let’s look at the apologist argument for conventional wisdom now; it’ll become evident that a change needs to be made. And frankly, that change is easy and simple. 1. “They won their division – that’s their reward.”
Sort of. In reality, bad division winners are rewarded more for luck than anything else – for conveniently being the least-crappy team in a bad division. In a good division, like the NFC South, you can go 10-6 and miss the playoffs entirely, like the Bucs, because there are two teams in front of you – two of the best teams in the NFL. Where is the Saints’ reward for winning twelve games? Where is the Ravens’ home game?
It would be one thing if Seattle scraped out enough wins to come out on top of a highly competitive, knock-down drag-out division. You sometimes see this in NCAA basketball, for instance. Mid- to top-tier teams in hyper-competitive conferences like the Big East are often rewarded with a tournament bid, despite a less impressive record than teams elsewhere. Conversely, teams with an awesome record in, say, the MAC probably won’t get in unless they win their conference’s automatic bid because the competition is so weak. And a MAC team will practically never be given regional preference (the NCAA’s approximation of a home game).
Not the case for the NFC West.
Put it this way – you drop Seattle into the AFC North or East – with their record – and they don’t even make the wild card.2. Complaining? Your team shouldn’t have lost .
Yes, you’re right. You know what? If the Ravens had just beaten Pittsburgh in that crucial game, if New Orleans had just scraped by Atlanta in Week 2, they would have won their division and would be hosting instead of being relegated to a wild-card seed. On the flip side, we’d just be having this conversation about the Steelers and the Falcons instead.
The bottom line is that if you win a ton of games, it should get you somewhere. If you’re good but unlucky enough to be in a division with a slightly more prolific team, the answer shouldn’t be “better luck next year.” There needs to be some sort of reward for doing so well.3. This is no big deal – the better team will win anyway, road or not.
This is a patented falsehood. Home-field advantage, particularly in the playoffs and against teams that usually play in domes, is a huge deal. One of the strongest attributes of the Seahawks is that they have an awesome home crowd, in part because “rain 300 days of the year + beer = loud yelling” and in part because Qwest Field is designed to be as obnoxiously loud as possible. It is kind of sad that a major strength of your team is the fans, but that’s beside the point.
Five of Seattle’s seven wins came at home. The Chiefs, division winners of the AFC’s worst division, are a whopping 7-1 at Arrowhead. Think this doesn’t make a difference?
Yes, the better team should win, road or home. The Saints should resoundingly destroy the Seahawks. Jamaal Charles notwithstanding, the Ravens should win handily in Kansas City (although the Ravens have won only one game handily the entire year). But stranger upsets have happened, and home-field plays a major role. There is a reason Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski refuses to play true away games and restricts his non-conference scheduling to Madison Square Garden and neutral-site tournaments.
I’d just like to see good teams rewarded for being good. You know, fairness.
So what’s the alternative? It’s elegant and simple. Once the playoff field is set, reseed the teams based on record alone. If you want to get fancy, you could restrict the count to conference games only, but it probably isn’t necessary. Tiebreaking would have many steps, as it always does, but a good starting point could be head-to-head, then division record. Such an arrangement would have the seeding like this:
New England Patriots (bye)
Pittsburgh Steelers (bye)
New York Jets
Kansas City Chiefs
Atlanta Falcons (bye)
Chicago Bears (bye)
New Orleans Saints
Green Bay Packers
Great! With reseeding, you’d have the Chiefs and Ravens flipping home venue, with the Ravens hosting, and the Jets hosting the Colts in freezing outdoor New Jersey instead of the Manning-friendly confines of Lucas Oil Stadium. In the NFC, you have New Orleans hosting Seattle and the Packers hosting the Eagles at Lambeau. Makes a heck of a lot more sense, right?
I mean, really, who would this piss off, long-term, besides the teams that would get flipped this year? This is one of those no-brainer changes that should have been made years ago. Kind of like overtime – oh wait! That finally got fixed!
I guess the NFC West would be furious. Maybe they should get better at football. (Pre-emptive address to Seattle fans: No, I don't hate your team, despite the fact that your coach left USC mainly to avoid the fallout from turning a blind eye to his stars making more money than him. Don't believe me? USC Song Girls. End of story. I dislike the so-easily-fixed silly setup the NFL has going on that allows a team that even you, if you took off the green-and-blue tinted glasses, would admit simply isn't very good.)
(Additional sidenote: if you do a Google image search for "seattle playoffs," the first sixteen images are of the MLS team, with a couple Green Bay Packer helmets thrown in for good measure. See?)
Like I said above, however, it’s highly unlikely that anything gets through the owners this year. The probable lockout (Roger Goodell’s statements of soothing notwithstanding) looms large, and no major changes are likely to be introduced.
UPDATE (8:46 AM CST, 1/6/2010): According to Mike Florio at NBC's ProFootballTalk, Goodell said this morning that the league is going to look at the idea of playoff reseeding again.http://thesportsjury.com/20110106847/nf ... re-seeding