Interesting. Sports Illustrated has the Detroit Lions, who currently sit atop the NFC north division, winding up a wild card team and getting bounced in the first round of the playoffs -- by the Eagles. Could happen.
The author, one Andy Benoit, goes on to predict a Packers/Patriots Super Bowl with the Pack prevailing 31-27. It's possible. Barring major injuries (see Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady), few would doubt the Cheesers and a team owned by a guy that owns a cheese company (Kraft) are amongst the elite teams.
But right now, with 6-7 games to go in the regular season, a few very strange things have occurred.
Out of 16 teams in the entire American Conference, twelve of them still have a realistic shot at the playoffs. Only the Jags, Jets, Titans, and the still winless Raiders are out of it.
In the AFC North, all four teams are above .500, separated by no more than one game.
One way or the other, somebody will wind up being the division champ, though it might well have to be determined by various tie-breakers.
On the other hand, in the NFC South, all four teams are BELOW .500.
New Orleans. 4-5.
Tampa Bay. 1-8.
Somebody has to win that division too and, the way they're going, it could be a team with a sub-.500 record that makes the playoffs.
Meanwhile, Philly and Dallas are slugging it out in the East, Detroit and Green Bay in the North, and Arizona and Seattle in the West for division championships. All have far better records than the above-mentioned bunch from the South.
Therefore, given the playoff format where all four division champs qualify, plus two wild-cards, it's entirely possible that a 7-9 or 8-8 division champ gets in -- while another team at 10-6 or even 11-5 is left out. How can that possibly be?
Sure, it's all about the mighty buck, and playoff games rack up some major cha-chings. That's why the NFL keeps expanding its playoff format. Like the movie Field of Dreams, schedule an NFL playoff game, regardless of the teams' records -- and they will come. Legions of them, with fat wallets and purses ripe for the picking.
The NFL has 32 teams, and twelve of them will make it to the playoffs. Watered down? Opinions vary, but so far the league continues to GROW in popularity. It would be interesting to see the public's reaction if the NFL expanded their playoff format even further. Instead of twelve teams, perhaps 16. Instead of two wild cards from each conference -- make it four. No extra weeks would be necessary. Just eliminate the first week playoff "byes" for the top two teams in each conference, and have everybody in action when the playoffs start. A "Sweet Sixteen" with a twist if you will, seeded accordingly. Teams with the best records get home field advantage. Oh yes, they would come -- in droves. Bring on the grease paint.
Yet it leaves one to wonder -- just how much can they water down the product before the public says "enough"?
Hard to say where the tipping point might be. The NHL currently has 30 teams and fully 16 of them will make it to the playoffs. That seems watered down, but they still pack the arenas at exorbitant prices once the post-season starts.
But not that long ago -- before they went through their own expansion -- the NHL consisted of twenty one teams. And SIXTEEN of them would go to the playoffs. In other words, a team had to terrible NOT to make it.
Want irony? While the pro leagues have expanded their playoffs, college football, certainly as big a deal in this country, had to be dragged kicking and screaming into allowing a whole 4 teams (instead of two -- out of a total of 119) to compete for a championship. And even those teams are determined by a special "panel". Instead of deciding it on the field with games, the likes of Condoleezza Rice and company will rule from on high as to which 4 schools get a shot.
For the most part, college teams are idle in the month of December. And spare me the argument about "student-athletes having to study for final exams" and the like. All the football players at Enormous U schools are NFL wannabes and have curriculums more patsy-like than their typical first games of the season. They could just as easily play a few rounds of playoffs during December. The lower division colleges do -- and those players have little chance of ever becoming a pro. So it's OK if the players that will graduate from lesser schools with a, GASP, education, and have to go get real jobs can play during December -- but it's putting too much of a burden on the big-time jocks with "majors" your average potted plant could breeze through? The hypocrisy screams.
Nevertheless, on with the games. It is what it is. How it all turns out is anybody's guess.
Packers 31, Pats 27 in the Big Dance? We'll see in February.
And why do I get this feeling that despite currently being ranked #5 and out of the college football playoff picture, that Alabama is going to win another national championship?
Here's a good question. Currently #1 ranked Mississippi State plays at Alabama this Saturday. So why is the #5 team an 8 and a half point favorite over the supposed top team in the country?
It's just about enough to make one scoff at the "polls".
But never fear, Condy will figure it out. Right.