What Would NFL Playoffs Look Like if League Used a BCS System?

Alessandro Miglio@@AlexMiglioFeatured ColumnistDecember 21, 2012

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 10:   The Coaches' Trophy, awarded to head coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide after defeating Louisiana State University Tigers in the 2012 Allstate BCS National Championship Game during a press conference on January 10, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

College football's Bowl Championship Series, or BCS, has many disparaging nicknames, most of which are not suitable for consumption here. This has not come without reason. Fans across the country have lamented the flawed system since its inception.

Without a true playoff, many deserving teams have been left outside of the championship picture, their fans left wondering what could have been. How many championship games have been waged between the clear-cut, top-two teams in the nation? There has even been a split national championship, which the BCS was supposed to eliminate.

Then there are the other BCS Bowl games, mostly populated by automatically qualifying teams—like a would-be 7-6 Georgia Tech this season, for example—from power conferences. 

Officials were slow to sacrifice the sacred cash cow in favor of a playoff system, but years of criticism and pressure have finally yielded a playoff starting in 2014.

No other big-time sports leagues utilize this terribly poor non-playoff system to determine a champion, but what would it look like if the NFL employed such a system? Aside from a dumpster fire, that is.


But it would be fun to explore the possibilities. That is, of course, if we could attach some sort of meaning to all the games outside the championship game. Teams and players would need some serious incentives to avoid making them watered down versions of the Pro Bowl.

There would be no playoffs with the current system, per se, unless we fast forward to 2014. Today's system would produce said title game and big-money matchups dictated by division titles—as opposed to conference titles in the FBS—with some at-large consideration.

For starters, the methodology behind the BCS rankings must be employed. That means gathering both computer and human rankings. 

Since there is no official use for such rankings, fewer exist in the realm of professional football. Every sports website has some sort of power ranking for the NFL teams, but those are not quite up to snuff for this exercise.

The one human poll that works is the AP32, where 12 writers are hand-picked to create an aggregate ranking of the 32 NFL teams. Ironically, the college AP poll was removed from the BCS equation in favor of the Harris Poll, but the AP32 is the only usable set of human rankings for these purposes.

As for computer rankings, there are four viable sources—the Massey, Schmidt, Sonny Moore and Sagarin rankings. Two of the sites—Massey and Sagarin—are actually employed by the BCS.

The formula utilized by the BCS system can be modified to accommodate fewer data points—in this case, we cannot remove the highest and lowest computer rankings because we have too few, and there is only one reliable human poll. 

All four sets of computer rankings plus the human poll are combined to form Captain Planet. Or this:

Note the two teams with the best records are ranked fourth and fifth. Of course they are, this is the NFL BCS after all.

These rankings are far more indicative of quality than the actual BCS, mostly because there are more games played between far fewer teams. If we were to truly try to replicate FBS football, the Giants, Broncos, Patriots and Packers would all be a part of a power-house conference while perennially overrated teams like the Jets and Eagles would form the Big 10.

Using NFL divisional alignment and schedules, however, one or two losses would not doom teams. The NFL would need not worry about a bunch of one-loss teams clustered at the top of the rankings.

If the season ended today, San Francisco and Denver would meet in the Super Bowl. That is not a bad prediction considering how well those two teams are playing. 

If we were to let the top four teams into the newly minted playoff system set to debut in 2014, we would need to have a selection committee in place. That means potential trouble for small-market teams, which are analogous to the "minor" conferences in the FBS.

Could you imagine the committee picking, say, St. Louis over the New York Tebows as an at-large team if their records are similar at the end of the season?

Atlanta, Houston and Seattle might be bypassed for, say, Washington or New York, to fill the fourth seed for monetary purposes. There should also be rules preventing three or all four playoff teams from coming from the same conference.

After all, this is not the SEC.

Outside of the Super Bowl matchup between the 49ers and Broncos, here are some other bowl projections based on these rankings, taking into account teams must have achieve eight victories to become bowl eligible:


The ABC's "Revenge" Fiesta Bowl

Green Bay vs. Seattle

In what was, perhaps, the final straw for the replacement referees, the Packers were robbed of a victory in Seattle when Golden Tate was awarded a last-minute, game-clinching touchdown on the infamous "simultaneous catch" ruling. This meeting was made possible by the 49ers clinching a title game berth, thus allowing Seattle into a "BCS Bowl."

These two might meet in this year's playoff, but why not turn it into a meaningless cash grab? Is Dr. Pepper available to do a halftime competition?


The OK Cupid Orange Bowl presented by Kay Jewelers

New England Patriots vs. New York Giants

These two lovebirds should meet in the playoffs every year if their previous matchups are any indication of quality. The Patriots might have some pent up anger about this one. New York gets in as an at-large despite not winning its division because of the draw and the matchup.


The Longhorn Steakhouse Cotton Bowl

San Diego Chargers vs. Houston Texans

Wait, how did the Chargers, who are technically not bowl-eligible, get to this fictional BCS Bowl? Why because Denver, the division champion, is in the title game and the Chargers are sitting in second place. Ladies and gentlemen, may I present the NFL's version of the BCS! 

The Texans are on their way to a fantastic season, but it looks like they will need plenty of help to get into the title game. 


The S&P 500 Futures Index Rose Bowl sponsored by Liberty Mutual

Washington Redskins vs. Indianapolis Colts

They have already met once this year, but Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III might not meet again for years based on their respective divisions. Indianapolis gets the second at-large bid.


The Avian Welfare Coalition Sugar Bowl

Atlanta Falcons vs. Baltimore Ravens

Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco have been joined at the hip by the 2008 NFL Draft, but they have faced off just once since then. What better way to find out? 


The Marlboro Schadenfreude Bowl

New York Jets vs. Chicago Bears

Have two quarterbacks entered a matchup with more criticism under their belts than Jay Cutler and Mark Sanchez? This matchup might set a new American record for levels of snark on social media.


The Purdue Chicken Leftovers Bowl

Minnesota Vikings vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

All other qualifying teams being equal, one team would be left out. Nobody wants to see Bengals-Steelers Part III, so we are stuck watching Adrian Peterson trying to rush for 350 yards against Troy Polomalu and that Pittsburgh defense.



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