NFL Playoffs: What the Hell Just Happened?

Dave MetrickSenior Writer IJanuary 14, 2009

Sundays are supposed to be peaceful, restful times where hard-working folks take respite from their otherwise frantic week. It doesn’t always work out that way. This past Sunday was a particularly rough one for me.
After watching my beloved defending champion New York Giants excel during the regular season, they sucker-punched me in the stomach.
The G-Men followed up their monumental upset of the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl last February and their 12-4 regular season (good for the No. 1 seed in the NFC) with a home loss to their division rivals, the Philadelphia Eagles.
On the bright side, my two year-old son was thoroughly entertained as he watched his father yell at the television like a lunatic. He even joined in from time to time unaware of the pain the men in the blue uniforms were causing Daddy.

One of the noteworthy things about the game, besides Eli Manning throwing the ball to guys with green helmets, was the fact that the Eagles were the sixth seed in the NFC and left for dead about a month ago.  And yet, here they were...winning...convincingly.

Carolina fans know what I’m talking about. Their second-seeded Panthers got spanked at home (where they were 8-0 during the regular season) by the Arizona Cardinals—a team considered D.O.A at the start of the playoffs. 

Did I mention the sixth seeded Baltimore Ravens slipped past the top seeded Tennessee Titans and are playing in the AFC Championship game?

So what the hell is going on? Why are the NFL playoffs suddenly turning into March Madness?

I’m no hockey connoisseur, but when I experimented with the NHL in the mid-'90s I noticed something peculiar about their postseason: an alarming amount of highly-seeded teams made early round exits. 

What I learned was that a hockey team was only good as their goalie. And if a netminder has it going on in late spring, his team can hop on his back and ride him all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Now it appears every major sport is following that trend and turning their respective playoffs into an absolute crapshoot. In addition to the NFL—who’s had a five seed and a six seed win two of the last three Super Bowls—wild-card teams have wreaked havoc on the MLB Playoffs.

This past Fall Classic saw the two dominate teams in the regular season (L.A. Angels & Chicago Cubs) unceremoniously bounced from the playoffs in the first round. Wild Card teams also managed to win three World Series in a row from 2002-2004. 

If something doesn’t change soon, regular seasons will become as meaningless as a marriage proposal on The Bachelor.

There is one island in this storm of parity...the NBA. In David Stern’s league, the top-seeded teams still take care of business. Every once in a while, there’s a shocker (like Golden State beating No. 1 seed Dallas a couple years ago), but for the most part, the dominant teams during the regular season are the ones winning conference crowns and playing in the Finals. 

Unfortunately, the NBA playoffs take somewhere around a year and half to complete, so by the time the Finals roll around, the casual fan is begging for a quick, merciful end.

Perhaps I shouldn’t complain too loudly about this era of parity. After all, it allowed my Giants to hoist the Lombardi Trophy a year ago. And I suppose sports fans should get used to it because there’s no sign this trend will be going away anytime soon. 

But if the Detroit Lions make a Super Bowl run in my lifetime, my head might explode.  I just hope my son isn’t there to laugh at me when it inevitably happens.

 

David Metrick is a freelance writer who regularly contributes to Sports Northwest magazine.  He also writes a blog - You Know What I've Been Thinking About Lately?

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