I expect to awaken the angry e-mailers with this one. From who? The same purists who balk at any change suggested in sport and then forget about all of their fury the next year after it’s become common place. Granted, there’s not much wrong with the NFL, outside of basically having a strike zone now, limiting where you’re allowed to hit players. Seriously, you almost have to have an act of congress to make a “legal tackle”.
RULE: 1,000,000-A-2-Section F-TACKLING FOR DUMMIES – a defensive player can only tackle an offensive player if all of the following requirements are met; a) Defender cordially invites ball carrier to Sunday brunch at some point before impact, b) Defender hits below the shoulder but above the knee, doesn’t lead with head, feet don’t leave the ground, no sound of aggression can be heard, and if it’s the 3rd Sunday of the month he must promptly dust off opposing jersey and curtsy to the officials c) the ball carrier can’t lay on the ground for more than 3 seconds after the hit or the refs will assume it’s an illegal hit…. I’m getting side tracked. The point is that these rules would go on for 87 pages.
The NFL is by far the most popular and entertaining sport that we have. It’s also the most even across the board talent wise. The Houston Texans, Detroit Lions, and Cincinnati Bengals all made the playoffs this year. A Broncos team that started 1-4 has now advanced to the second round of the AFC Playoffs. Of course you have the powerhouse teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots etc. that are always in the running but every team has an legitimate shot. It’s not like baseball, where the Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies and so on, can just go buy up all of the talent. It’s definitely not the NBA where all the major stars make a name for themselves within the first few years and then buy friendship bracelets with each other names on it and pledge to play together for the rest of their career.
I love the NFL and if they kept everything the same, I wouldn’t begrudge them. But, because I value fair play and seeing what happens when the best teams face each other when everything is on the line, I don’t want to see competitive disadvantages like what we see in other sports. The NFL has one such disadvantage in the playoffs or advantage depending on which side of the top 2 seeds you fall. While I may be the only one who has a problem with this rule, that’s ok, I’ve made my peace with that.
All year we talked about how close the AFC teams are to one another. I’ve said a million times that I didn’t know who deserved the #1 seed. Every team had an obvious weakness and this made it great to watch and gave every team an opportunity in each matchup. Any one thing could tilt the scales drastically in one teams favor if you shifted a variable. The NFL adds a huge controlled variable in the offseason that cheapens the playoffs to me; the first round bye!
I’m sure 90% of you are screaming at your computer screen right now and asking who is this moron? Saying, “That’s why you play for the top 2 seeds, so you can get home field advantage and a first round bye.” That’s a conditioned response. There use to be four teams out of each conference and there were no byes. Then more teams were added as more playoff spots followed. When teams are this close together in talent, giving one team an extra bye before their next game and home field is ridiculous. Let’s look at specifics of matchups for the coming week.
New England Patriots got to rest and get healthy at home while waiting and watching the Denver Broncos get in a gruesome fight with the Steelers. While Denver was coming into their facilities on Monday to prepare for the Patriots, they had to first get checked out and start healing from the battle the day before. Meanwhile the refreshed Patriots come in and are ready to get back to work after a week of getting treatment and getting healed up. Fast forward a few days, Denver’s players will have to board a plane and fly across country to New England. They will lose an extra day for travel and for good measure another one as this game is being played on Saturday. Meanwhile the Patriots will stay at home, continue to practice and wait for Denver to show up for the game. The game being played on a Saturday night doesn’t bother the Patriots at all. They’ve gotten a full week of rest and don’t have to travel. Do you still not see a flaw with the bye week? The Home field advantage should be enough.
The San Francisco 49ers will get the same benefits as Pats because the New Orleans Saints have to fly all the way out West. Everything from above applies to this game as well as the Houston Texans traveling to the Baltimore Ravens and the New York Giants making the commute to face the well rested, defending champion Green Bay Packers. Of course teams can overcome these obstacles. It happens every year. It still doesn’t justify putting that much weight on having the best regular season record, especially when some teams get the benefit of playing the Rams, Seahawks, and Cardinals 6 times a year and others had to play in a division with the Ravens, Steelers, Bengals… Well we’ll stop there…
Would the Steelers have won one more game than the New England if the Patriots had to play Pittsburgh’s schedule and vice versa? How good would the Steelers have been this offseason if Big Ben got an extra bye week before having to play a playoff game at home as opposed to traveling to Denver with no rest? If the Atlanta Falcons played in the NFC West, would they have been the #2 seed? The schedule teams get every year, are in a way helping to decide who gets a better chance of advancing to the Super Bowl.
I’m not saying that if you gave the Cleveland Browns the easiest schedule that they would get a playoff spot and a first round bye. What I’m saying is that when you have so many good teams that aren’t separated by much, it’s a pity to see the determining factor be which division they play in and what opposing divisions they play this season. New Orleans may in fact go to San Francisco and pull out a win. It happens all the time, but they have to overcome so much to do that. It’s not a fair fight. It’s like making a fighter take back to back matches while his opponent gets to come into the ring fresh. Yeah, the tired fighter may land a hay maker and get the KO, but chances are that the other well trained, well conditioned fighter will outlast him and get the win, even if it’s by a last second decision.
Now, if I haven’t lost you yet, this is where you probably abandon me. I can’t complain about the problem, without offering a solution. So, here’s the simple way to rectify the situation.
4 Divisional Winners & Four Wild Cards from both Conferences….Breathe, breathe, okay now let it settle in before emailing me.
The top seeds still get their home field advantage. There is a reason why they call it home field advantage. It’s an eff’ing huge advantage! They’re already the #1 seed, which means that they are suppose to be the best. Now make them earn it, don’t just gift wrap it for them by letting them only have to win two games while everyone else has to win three to get to the Super Bowl.
Many people have told me that 16 teams is way too many teams to make the playoffs. ”That’s half the league.” So? I don’t see the outrage. Your prize for getting in the playoffs as the 8th seed is having to travel to face the best team in your conference on the road. More cities get to enjoy the playoffs and have the hope of pulling the huge upset. The #1 seed should win this game but at least they can’t just sit back and relax and watch every other team fight in the playoffs. Last but not least, an 18 Game Season
Like it or not, there will be an 18 game season and soon. The more games that are played, the further the separation will become between the top six teams and the other 10 in a conference. Adding two more playoff teams will ensure that teams can’t just mail in the last month of the season. If you think watching week 17 is bad when a lot of teams have nothing to play for, wait until you watch a season where weeks 17, 18, and 19 are filled with a ton of teams posing as the Pittsburgh Pirates and Kansas City Royals of the last generation. By that I mean, just letting all of their young prospects play the last month of the season as they prepare for next year. That’s what you would be watching if they go to an 18 game schedule and only have six playoff teams per conference.
As always my twitter and email is accepts as well as sends. Some of you will find a way to take this personal as if I just insulted your family and all that is holy for questioning the good book that is known as the NFL Rules and Regulations. If you can’t reach me by internet means, you may find me outside of the box. I doubt we’ll run into each other there, but be careful what you wish for…
Jayson Braddock is an NFL Scout / NFL Writer & On-Air Personality. Jayson is also a football insider for the Dylan Gwinn show on 790 AM in Houston, TX - Listeners NOT in the Houston metropolitan area can hear Jayson on iheart radio or sports790.com. You can also catch Jayson on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio with Scott Engel and the morning crew every Thursday at 10:30am ET. You may email Jayson directly @ email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @JaysonBraddock