NFL Playoffs: 7 Ways the NFL Could Improve the Postseason
What could be better than the NFL's postseason road to the Super Bowl?
Thus far we've seen teams make history (Houston winning its first playoff game), two of the best games in recent NFL memory (last weekend's 49ers vs. Saints thriller along with a Broncos vs. Steelers game that redeemed what was otherwise a dull Wild Card Weekend) as well as upsets, great performances and the ascension of new stars.
In other words, we got to see every reason why we love the NFL playoffs, and there are still three games left to be played.
But what if we could find a few ways to make what's already great even better?
What if we could add on a few new tweaks that would improve an already great system to our advantage (and to the advantage of the NFL's network sponsors and partners as well)?
I think I might have a few ideas that could go a long way on improving upon something that's already great without oversaturating it (which is always a looming threat, as you can have too much of a great thing).
Here are some ideas bouncing around in my head.
Make the No. 1 Seed More Important
The bye week is often the most important thing to fight for once you're already in the postseason.
Just having that extra week of rest is more of an incentive to teams than having home-field advantage itself. All NFL teams feel that they can beat any team, anywhere at any time, so once you're assured of a top-two seed, you already feel some confidence in your seed and would likely rather get healthy than fight for one extra home playoff game because, again, you likely believe you can beat the other team in their house.
However, the extra week of rest is a big carrot on a stick.
Teams fight for this carrot with tooth and nail. Rest assured, it's not so much the home playoff game, but more the fact that you're resting for a week while teams are playing for the opportunity to play against you. If you're lucky you might even get a Saturday game against a team that played on Sunday, meaning while you come in on 13 days of rest, the other team only had five.
At times when you have two teams with the same record at the top of their conference with a top-two seed already clinched, both teams are more set on making sure their team is healthy. Sometimes it leads to Matt Flynn stepping in at quarterback and making himself a cool $26 million from another team, but most of the time (any of the late-season Colts games in 2005 and 2009) it makes for a glorified preseason game where the starters come in for the first half and in the second half you get a steady diet of Curtis Painter.
This can be remedied by one simple change: Make it so that only the first seed can get the first-round bye week.
Now this can be done in two ways.
The first way would involve eliminating the second wild card and instead making the Wild Card Round the No. 2 seed against the No. 5 seed and the No. 3 seed against the No. 4 seed. However, that would go over about as well as a fart in church (easy argument against this being the simple fact that the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers and the 2010 Green Bay Packers were No. 6 seeds).
Instead, to complement this change...well, you'll see on the other slide.
Adding a Seventh Playoff Team to Both Conferences
Now you have an idea that would not only allow you to give a bye week to only the No. 1 seed, it would force you to do so.
In some years your wild-card teams can be very uninteresting 8-8 teams that are there because a conference is too top-heavy. But most of the time you find that outside of the playoffs looking in are two or three 10-6 and 9-7 teams that failed to make it into the playoffs.
Only adding to that is the fact that usually in the same conference (but obviously different division), there's an 8-8 division winner. Once last season we even had a 7-9 division winner (but there's no need to harp on that).
To reward those teams that played well but are still kept out of the playoffs, just add an additional wild-card team to both conferences.
Had this been done last season in the NFC, the Giants would've been playoff bound at 10-6, while another 10-6 team, the Buccaneers, would still be on the outside looking in.
This season would've seen a do-or-die game between the 7-8 (going into the game) Arizona Cardinals and 7-8 Seattle Seahawks for the final playoff spot in the NFC—a game that would've also affected the Dallas Cowboys (who would've still had a shot at the postseason had Seattle won) and even Philadelphia Eagles (actually, a seventh playoff spot would've made the Week 16 Cowboys-Eagles game very important for both teams; remember, it lost its importance earlier that day when the Giants defeated the Jets).
You know what else this means? That's right—two more playoff games!
With six playoff games, each NFL broadcast partner (not ESPN) would get two games: FOX gets two of the NFC games, CBS gets two of the AFC games (Saturday and Sunday afternoons) while NBC gets an NFC and AFC wild-card game (the prime-time games on both of those nights).
While we don't want oversaturation (which would occur if we went with eight playoff teams in each conference; sorry, but while 14 playoff teams is close to half, half the teams in the league shouldn't make the playoffs), two triple-headers would be a great way to kick off the playoffs.
This will not only make for better end-of-season games, but also have us not rely too much on arbitrary geographical lines to decide our playoff teams.
In fact, I'll say this: I am annoyed that geography plays such a big role in playoff seeding. Pardon me, I'm going on a rant the next slide.
Seedings Should Be Based on Record, Not Whether or Not You Win Your Division
Why do we reward teams simply because they're the best teams in an arbitrary geographic group? I mean, this season, while you had the top four teams in the NFC coming from practically the four corners of the country, that hasn't been the case in the AFC in a while, where the best teams have usually come from the Northeast.
Why should a 12-4 Pittsburgh Steelers team have to travel to Denver to play an 8-8 team? Doesn't something seem a bit...I don't know...odd about that?
Pittsburgh was in the far superior division, and the third-place team in its division went 10-6 and got into the playoffs, so why is it the one traveling while the 8-8 team, which by the way enjoys one of the best home-field advantages in football thanks to altitude, gets to host a playoff game?
This always ticks me off. Now division winners should be rewarded; however, making it into the playoffs is more than enough.
Once the playoff field is set, reseed.
You don't have to implement the changes I pointed out in the last two slides to do it, but it should be looked at by the NFL's competition committee.
Had the seeding been done based on record, the AFC would've looked like this in 2011:
1. New England Patriots (13-3)
2. Baltimore Ravens (12-4)
3. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)
4. Houston Texans (10-6)
5. Cincinnati Bengals (10-6)
6. Denver Broncos (8-8)
All you really did there was switch the Broncos-Steelers game from being held in Denver to Pittsburgh. As if that wasn't enough of an advantage (and this will be pointed out by Steelers fans), Ryan Clark would also be able to play. Doesn't that change that game already?
It would also affect the NFC side as well, as it would look like this:
1. Green Bay Packers (15-1)
2. San Francisco 49ers (13-3)
3. New Orleans Saints (13-3)
4. Atlanta Falcons (10-6)
5. Detroit Lions (10-6)
6. New York Giants (9-7)
Already as you can see it would be a clearly different NFC playoff picture. As good as the Giants have been, I'm confident they would've been able to beat the Saints, even in the Superdome.
Why would I push for this? Because you shouldn't be awarded a home playoff game based on geography alone, yet the NFL continues to insist on this. But if you ask me, it's more impressive to finish with the second- or third-best record in the entire conference despite a team with the same record (or better) being in your division than it is to win an otherwise weak division (comparatively speaking, of course).
It would also even out instances like last season, when the Saints had to travel to Seattle to face the Seahawks despite winning FIVE more games than Seattle. (My argument for you Seahawks fans is that Seattle did deserve to make it into the playoffs based on winning the NFC West but shouldn't have hosted a playoff game).
After the first round it would be simple: Highest seed (team with best record) hosts the playoff game. This way if an 11-5 wild-card team plays a 9-7 division winner in the conference championship game, the 11-5 team would have home-field advantage.
Again, teams that win more games should be rewarded for doing so.
A Change to the Overtime Rules (Again)
Kudos to the NFL for changing the overtime rules for the playoffs a couple of years ago; however, I don't necessarily think that it should be as complicated as it is.
No longer are we bound by sudden death; however, if a team scores a touchdown on its opening drive in overtime (as seen in Broncos vs. Steelers), the opposing team should be able to attempt to match that just like with field goals.
It's simple, it doesn't go into the same rules as college overtime (which thankfully the NFL has avoided) and it doesn't punish a team's offense just because its defense had a bad drive.
The rules would be simple: Each team would have the ball, regardless of what the team that was on offense did in its first possession. If after each team has an offensive drive the score is the same, then we go into sudden death.
Of course, if on a team's first offensive drive it turns the ball over, then the opposing team could end the game with any score. If a team scores off a turnover (or safety) on the first drive, then the game is over.
This way each team gets a chance with the ball regardless of what happens. If this were the case in Broncos vs. Steelers, then Denver's defense would have to stop the Steelers, who would have no other choice but to score a touchdown.
I know getting a touchdown is hard; however, to have that be the exception to the new overtime rules is confusing and still a bit unfair, as it still deprives the other team a chance to respond. It should get that chance.
No matter what.
Split Up Championship Sunday
Championship Sunday is one of the best dates on the sports calendar, possibly better than the Super Bowl but without the fluff that draws in the non-football pop culture fans who watch it just because E! tells them it's important to see the new carpet cleaner commercial starring the Kardashians, as well as that trailer for that big summer blockbuster that comes out six months after the game is played and is in fact still being shot that you know is going to be garbage because it stars that guy you hate but you know can't act.*
You have two football games played that day that are equally important: A Super Bowl berth is at stake. It's nonstop action that starts at 3:30 ET and doesn't end until around 10:30, and at the very least one of those games is going to be great.
You can't really make that day any better; however, you can somewhat give each conference its own spotlight and go into prime time on both nights.
Rotate them how you choose, but play one conference title game on Sunday night while the other conference championship game is played on Saturday night.
Each conference would get to crown its champion in prime time, and both games would have great anticipation the afternoon of the game. You know the ratings would be phenomenal (then again, you could probably feature a Miami Dolphins vs. St. Louis Rams game live at 2 a.m. on a Wednesday and draw great ratings since we do love our football, no matter how putrid it can be; in fact, if I were Jeff Fisher I would've actually made my decision by staging the game and collected a third of the gate receipts and ad revenue while I was at it; don't act like you wouldn't have watched that game had it been on last Wednesday morning; it would've been better than waiting on the guy to make his choice the whole week), and of course the networks would be happy.
In fact, let me show you how happy one of the networks would have been to have a conference championship game on Saturday night: Let's take a look at next Saturday's CBS lineup (since its game is the afternoon game while FOX gets the prime-time slot this year):
8 p.m.: NCIS: Los Angeles (rerun of an episode from last season that fans of the show have likely already seen at least once or twice)
9 p.m.: 48 Hours Mystery (I'll watch it if I'm home on Saturday night, but usually it's more in the sense that "hey, the [Miami Heat, Florida Panthers, Chicago Cubs or college football] game is over, I wonder what else is on" sense, but it's not like I'm bummed when I miss an episode; nor do I know anyone that really is)
10 p.m.: 48 Hours Mystery
Will that lineup get CBS decent ratings? Of course it will; NCIS: Los Angeles is a popular show, and some people might not have seen the episode in question, while 48 Hours Mystery is one of those shows that you won't plan on watching, but 10 minutes in you're sucked in and have to see what happens (at least that's the feeling I get when it comes on; same feeling I get with COPS, America's Most Wanted and of course Dateline: To Catch a Predator).
But the AFC championship game between the Ravens and Patriots? That would likely be in the top two in prime time all week alongside the other championship game. It might even set a ratings record, for all we know.
This idea is too good for the NFL to not consider.
*As for the actor/actress referred to in that sentence: It's different for everybody, but for me it's quite a few people I'll name by writing their initials together backwards: PRSKFBLJHK.
Move the Super Bowl to February 14th, Regardless of What Day It Falls On
The Super Bowl is usually played in the first week of February. However, here's a novel idea:
Play the game on Valentine's Day.
Just messing with you—now THAT would be stupid. The only ones who would come out of it happy: divorce lawyers.
The Super Bowl is played on a good day, as it allows for the current playoff format to carry on, while allowing the flexibility of tweaking the system a bit. The tweaks I mentioned would improve something that's already great.
Enjoy championship Sunday, everyone!