10 Reasons the NFL Playoffs Are Better Than the NBA Playoffs
I'll take the NFL over the NBA (and the NHL or MLB, for that matter) every day of the week.
Now there are many reasons why I say that.
Some are more basic (like the greatness of the very sport of football itself) than others (like how well the league is structured to be fair and competitive).
But perhaps the chief reason why is the NFL tops all other sports is the value and uniqueness of its postseason. So while the NBA is knee-deep in its playoff run right now, I'd like to take this opportunity to point out why that is the case.
Granted, there's an apples-to-oranges element to this list and it's virtually impossible for the NBA to adopt some of the NFL's best playoff-specifics, but that shouldn't stop David Stern and his colleagues from at least trying.
No. 10: No Sweeps
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It's entirely true that the NFL has it share of total playoff duds.
Just last year, that Falcons-Giants Wild Card game was pretty hard to watch, at least in the second half. And we all remember just how over-matched the Broncos looked in their 45-10 drubbing at the hands of the Patriots.
And throughout NFL playoff history, there's been some real stinkers, like the Dolphins' January 2000 embarrassment in Jacksonville, when they lost 62-7, or the time that the Bills crushed the Raiders 51-3 in the 1990 AFC Championship Game.
But I'd still take that type of bottom-feeding performance over the NBA equivalent: the four-game game.
At least there's some feeling of getting your money's worth in that playoff game. When your team is swept in four straight, that's not really the case.
More to the point, even if an NFL playoff game is over at halftime, there's less of a foregone conclusion feel than when a team is up 3-1 in the series. There's no greater lame-duck feeling than that.
And hey, at least the 1992 Bills came back from being down 35-3 to the Oilers; no team NBA team has ever come back from being down 3-0 in a series.
No. 9: 12 Teams vs. 16 Teams
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Here's a simple reason that has less to with the playoff games themselves and more to do with the structure of the postseason setup.
In the NFL, 12 teams—six from each conference, four division winners, two wild cards—make the playoffs. That means that 3/8ths or 37.5 percent of the teams in the league make the playoffs.
In the NBA, 16 teams—eight from each conference, three division winners, five unofficial wild cards—make the playoffs. That means that 8/15ths or about 53.3 percent of the teams in the league make the playoffs.
In some ways, it's great that more teams (and a greater percentage of teams) make the playoffs. Having more than half of the league's teams make the postseason gives the fans more to cheer about and certainly brings in more revenue for the franchise and the league.
But it does water down the meaning of "making the playoffs" and does, by its very definition, mean more mediocre teams get an invite to the dance.
No. 8: No Late Starts
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EAST COAST BIAS ALERT! EAST COAST BIAS ALERT!
I freely admit that there is an East Coast bias to this entry and to American sports in general.
But which is worse: Having to get up early to watch a game at 10 a.m. or having to try and stay awake until well past midnight to see the end of a game?
It has to be the former, just for the very reason that the more exciting and more meaningful part of a playoff game is the END, not the beginning.
Look, West Coasters would be somewhat justified in their outcry if a 49ers-Seahawks playoff game were to start at 1 p.m. EST (no way the league would do that, by the way). It would be odd to start a game at 10 a.m. local time. But it's not that bad. And worse case scenario, fans would still catch the entire fourth quarter of the game starting around noon.
But it's far worse if the Lakers and Suns are playing a Game 7 for the right to go to the Finals on a Tuesday night and half of the East Coast misses the last hour because they have school or work the next morning and can't stay up until past midnight since the game started at 10:30 p.m. EST.
That scenario just doesn't happen in the NFL. Even the Super Bowl is usually over by 9:30 or 10 p.m. and the only truly night playoff games occur either on Saturday, which most often is a night people already stay up late for.
No. 7: All Teams at the Same Point
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I find it truly unsettling when one round of the playoffs isn't even over yet and another round gets underway.
Look at what happened just last week in The Association.
The Lakers and Nuggets had a Game 7 of their first-round series scheduled for Saturday, May 12 at 10:30 p.m. EST.
Meanwhile, that very same evening, the Celtics and 76ers had Game 1 of their semifinals series scheduled two-and-a-half hours before the Lakers and Nuggets tipped off.
The very same scenario (one series playing its Game 7 the same day as the next round's series begins Game 1) took place the following day as well, with the Clippers-Grizzlies Game 7 finishing out on Sunday, just before the Heat-Pacers semifinal opened up.
Even though the Texans pushed past the Bengals in the first playoff game of the 2012 NFL postseason, they weren't in Baltimore playing the Ravens the next day while the Steelers, Broncos, Saints, Lions, Falcons and Giants still hadn't played their Wild Card game.
No. 6: Predictable Schedules
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The fact that the NBA playoffs play a best-of-seven and the fact that the NFL plays one game a week is to blame for this slide, but it's still a reason why the NFL has a leg up.
I just never have any idea (and no one really does until the networks tell us) when and which NBA teams will square off.
Given all the teams and all the travel and the 2-2-1-1-1 setup, there's no routine.
Unless the NFL makes some drastic changes, I can tell you right now exactly when games will be played in the 2013 playoffs.
In the Wild Card round, there will be a game on Saturday late afternoon, a game later that evening from the opposite conference. Then, the next day another game at 1 p.m. EST followed by a game at 4 p.m., again alternating conferences.
Same schedule for the divisional round a week later, followed by the conference championships at 3:30 and 6 p.m. the next Sunday, followed two weeks later by the Super Bowl at 6:29 p.m. EST.
There is comfort in routine.
No. 5: Byes
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If you're a fan of a team, say the Oakland Raiders or New York Jets, more than you are a fan of the NFL, than a few of these slides may not have really spoken to you.
Perhaps you wish that the NFL would include more teams in the playoffs, like in the NBA. That way each year the Raiders or Jets or whoever else has a better shot of making the postseason and winning the Super Bowl.
But that's not necessarily better for the NFL.
Well, here's another slide that points to an element of the NFL playoffs that isn't really always best for fans, but is best for the league.
In the NFL, earning a bye week can be a double-edged sword. It lets a team rest, prepare and means a club only has to win three games, instead of four, to win the Super Bowl. But it does open teams up to the "rust factor." Furthermore, a bye means that a team's fans don't get to watch them play in that opening weekend.
But byes are critical for adding value to the regular season; they reward teams that play all 16 games with something tangible.
The NBA really doesn't do that.
Sure the opening round for the top seed in each conference can be a walk in the park: presumably they draw "the worst" of the playoff teams. But tell that to the 1994 Supersonics, 1999 Heat, 2007 Mavericks and 2011 Spurs, the four top-seeds that lost the opening round to eight-seeds.
Upsets are great for storylines, but because in the NBA the only benefit to earning the top record is an extra home game and seeding—while the NFL offers both those and a week off—the NFL earns another notch.
No. 4: No Quick Turnaround
It's so strange the way the NBA playoffs are set up. Everything seems so ridiculously drawn out and long: It can take nearly two weeks to determine a series, if it goes seven games.
But then, especially if that seven-game series was a first-rounder, in a blink, teams are headed off to play the next series.
Take the Lakers this year, for example. On a Saturday night, they won Game 7 over the Nuggets to advance to the semifinals and by Monday evening they were in Oklahoma City to lose to the Thunder.
Not only is that a lot to digest in 48 hours but it leads to weary, often unprepared teams that find themselves at a major disadvantage.
The NFL playoffs can offer a similar unfair scenario when Wild Card winner has to play a team that just had a bye. But at least they had five or six days to rest up and gameplan.
Usually, not always, but usually that leads to higher quality, more evenly matched games and therefore a more exciting and a better brand of football.
No. 3: No Geographical Alignment
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Granted the NFL's way of structuring its conferences is totally arbitrary—why should the Jaguars be in the AFC and the Seahawks in the NFC?—but I find it strange that the NBA is divvied up into an Eastern Conference and a Western Conference.
Now while that may be a more general "complaint" and one that applies to the league at large, it does have an impact on the postseason structure.
To me the whole "East vs. West" storyline of the NBA Finals is so played out and trite. Maybe if it were the Knicks and Lakers or Celtics and Lakers every year, it would be one thing, but pitting Miami versus Dallas or Cleveland versus San Antonio is not an angle to sell the game.
For that matter, neither is Green Bay versus Pittsburgh or New Orleans versus Indianapolis, but at least those matchups completely removed from the equation geography, which has no business in championship contests anyway.
No. 2: One-Day, Winner-Take-All
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Again, this is something of a preference argument, and also one that will never change (the NFL won't be playing seven-, or five-, or even three-game series anytime in the next 1,000 years and the NBA won't play one-game series in that same stretch either), but it adds to the debate.
Forget for a minute the element of teams "taking a night off" or "having an off night" both of which can happen in the NBA (and not in the NFL) and still win a series and/or a championship.
Forget for a minute that one-game series make home-field advantage truly an edge. The advantage of having four-of-seven games at home can't compare to the advantage of having one-of-one games at home.
And forget for a minute that best-of-seven series can be drawn out longer than two full weeks.
Just remember this.
Whenever a Game 7 comes up in the NBA or NHL or Major League Baseball playoffs, people get so amped up and excited: "Oh, it's winner take all! How exciting!"
Well, in the NFL playoffs every game has that same winner-take-all element. Win or go home.
No. 1: Weather
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Again, not in a million years will the NBA play its game outside, let alone in conditions that routinely feature snow or rain or wind. So this is another case issue that the NBA will always trail the NFL on.
Even if all 11 NFL playoff games next January and February were played in a dome, they'd most likely produce a handful of phenomenal, thrilling games.
But there's just something special and even expected about "playoff weather."
Whether it's in Chicago, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, New England, Green Bay, New York or any other cold weather cities with open-air stadiums, those home playoff games usually feature frigid conditions. "True" fans seem to welcome the elements and view them as much a staple of the postseason as anything.
And since, two years from now, the NFL is actually going to host a Super Bowl in New Jersey in early February, when cold, snow and wind should be on at full blast, the weather is actually becoming a bigger part of the game than it was just a few years ago.
Maybe that doesn't necessarily produce "better" football, but it does greatly increase the home-field advantage element. Presumably the home-team (especially if they're hosting a dome team or warm-weather team) has a tremendous edge since they routinely play in those conditions.
With NBA games played on the same dry, windless, air-conditioned and repeatedly polished arena floors, any home-court advantage is often wiped away.