The Kansas City Chiefs tied records with the Indianapolis Colts this year at 10-6, both hosted home playoff games as division winners in the AFC. The Chiefs being the fourth seed played the fifth seeded Baltimore Ravens, and the Colts being the third seed played the sixth seeded New York Loudmouths Jets. Sounds good right?
Wait a second. The Jets and Ravens had better records then both of the teams they played, and yet still had to go on the road to face them because they won weaker divisions. How is that fair? To be 100% fair the playoff home games should go to the teams with the best records, not necessarily division winners, correct? Well that’s what you will hear if you listen to any sports radio show this side of the universe.
Realistically, there are several options available to the NFL if they consider doing this, and none of them have come about just this year. They have become a hot button since the SeaChickens Seahawks hosted a home playoff game after winning their division with a losing record. Moreover, this has become an even larger issue since they knocked the defending Super Bowl Champion Saints out of the first round of the playoffs. The Media doesn’t take kindly to their favorite teams not doing as well as they told everyone they would.*
*See 2010 Vikings and Cowboys.
The different NFL seeding breakdowns, and how this applies to the Chiefs after the jump.
So I believe there are really four scenarios that could happen according to my Oklahoma math (yes they actually allow math down here), and said scenarios are listed below*:
*Keep in mind to make this as simple as possible I am not going to discuss adding additional teams to the post season.
Scenario Number 1: This is the most popular in the media right now. These proposed changes would keep the division winners in the playoffs, but seed them based solely on their record to clinch home playoff games. Simply put, if you finish second in your division, you would get to play at home if your record was better than another division winner on Wild Card Weekend.
Scenario Number 2: In each conference, the concept of division winners is totally blown out of the water, and teams with the best six records regardless of division go to the playoffs, with the top two receiving the first round bye, and top four playing their first game at home. This is different than scenario 1 because winning your division doesn’t guarantee a playoff spot. Supporters of this scenario include those still mad about the Patriots winning 11 games and not clinching a spot with Matt Cassel as QB.
Scenario Number 3: We blow up the whole thing. The top twelve teams in the entire league with the best records are selected regardless of conference, separated into brackets by some ancient magical doctrine (ask Merlin on the side and he can explain it to you), and then the rules are basically the same. This option was of popular debate when the Patriots made their run at three Super Bowls, the AFC clearly had the best teams, and the NFC was a hot steaming pile of Herm Edwards.
Scenario Number 4: There are no changes. The rules stay the way they are. You win your division you clinch not only a playoff spot, but are guaranteed a home playoff game. Top two teams have the bye, etc.
So, outright I am going to say I think we should stick with option 4. No changes. I understand that there are going to be some statistical anomalies in the league (like the worst division in league history) now and again, but that is exactly what they are, anomalies. I guess if I had to peg down my number one problem with all of the suggested changes, it is that none of it considers strength of schedule. Part of why the Patriots had such amazing records was because the rest of their division sucked. The Jets are now obviously better, the Dolphins and Bills are still horrible, and not to detract from their accomplishments because they were a fantastic team, but they were in an otherwise shitty division. So basing everything off of record doesn’t account for teams that play divisions like the NFC West, or divisions on the other side of the spectrum. Also, if they start factoring in strength of schedule we might as well start preparing for the BCS. Screw that.
Finally, I have to tie why I want things to stay the way they are back into the Kansas City Chiefs. You were starting to wonder how this was related, yes?
Firstly, to allow one conference to have more teams in the tournament takes the dynamic of the merger out of professional football. The whole idea is that the founder of the Chiefs and one of the people mainly responsible for making football what it is today, Lamar Hunt, said to those that called the AFL foolish, “Talk all you want, but until you play us it’s just talk.”* I’m proud to be a Chiefs fan beyond just the team and the city, but also because of what an impact the founder of our team had on the league. The current system is a reflection of his vision, and I support keeping it that way.
*In case you didn’t guess, that’s not an actual Lamar Hunt quote.
Secondly, to change the system to me fundamentally undermines the importance of having a division, playing divisional games, and division rivalries. This will weaken the sport and take even more of the history out of the game. The AFC West is a division laden with history. The Chiefs (known then as the Dallas Texans of course), Chargers, Raiders, and Broncos are all original AFL teams that have played each other for longer than a lot of us (certainly I) have been alive. The games they play mean more than just a game against a non-division opponent because they are battling for that right to say that they are the best in the West, and that because they are the best at least one team that wants to go to the Super Bowl will have to come through their house. Division games are like mini playoff and Super Bowl games during the regular season, and only because of the current structure. To keep that history and to keep these rivalries alive I am willing to accept the Seahawks getting a home playoff game. They may not have deserved it, but they earned it. They won their division.
So Addicts, how do you think the Playoff system should change, if at all? I’m sure that there are a lot of supporters of changes out there. Sound off!