So, as we head into the final week of the 2011 NFL regular season, there are a few spots up for grabs in both the NFC and AFC. This weekend should prove to be a dramatic one. Here's how things look right now:
- Green Bay, 14-1 (clinched home field advantage and first-round bye)
- San Francisco, 12-3 (clinched division; can clinch first-round bye with win over St. Louis)
- New Orleans, 12-3 (clinched division; can clinch first-round bye with win over Carolina and San Francisco loss)
- NY Giants/Dallas, 8-7 (winner clinches NFC East, loser is eliminated)
- Detroit, 10-5 (clinched Wild Card; secures 5th seed with win over Green Bay)
- Atlanta, 9-6 (clinched Wild Card; can move up to 5th seed with win over Carolina and Detroit loss)
Green Bay will probably beat Detroit this Sunday at home, unless they rest their starters. Green Bay really has nothing to play for at this point, other than pride, and it's not an uncommon thing to do. I think Rodgers and starters play at least through halftime, though, and the Packers finish the season at 15-1.
San Francisco will probably beat St. Louis to lock up the 2nd seed. Doing so makes New Orleans' game meaningless. New Orleans' game only means anything if they win and San Francisco loses.
The NY/Dallas game is a tossup, in my opinion. That should be a fun game to watch, even though I'm not a fan of either team.
If Detroit loses to Green Bay, it opens the door for Atlanta to move into the 5th seed, since Atlanta beat Detroit in Week 7. Atlanta has a favorable matchup this week against
Carolina [Ed: Tampa Bay. Thanks, my mistake. Still a favorable matchup, as pointed out in the comments], so it looks like they have a decent shot of moving up.
This is exciting to me because, even though we already know most of the teams that will be in the NFC playoffs, each team (except Green Bay) has something to play for this week. The difference between the 5th and 6th seed is the difference between playing a mediocre Dallas/NY team and Drew Brees. I would not want to have to face Brees in the first round at all.
- New England, 12-3 (clinched division and first-round bye; can clinch home-field advantage with win over Buffalo)
- Baltimore/Pittsburgh, 11-4 (see below)
- Houston, 10-5 (clinched division; their game against Tennessee means nothing for them. They are locked into the 3rd seed regardless of the outcome of this game)
- Denver/Oakland, 8-7 (see below)
- Baltimore/Pittsburgh (see below)
- Cincinnati/Tennessee/Oakland/NY Jets (see below)
New England is guaranteed to finish no lower than the 2nd seed in the AFC. A win over Buffalo would lock them in to the #1 seed. A loss opens up the door to either Pittsburgh or Baltimore.
Baltimore has a wide range of possibilites right now: they could finish as high as the #1 overall seed and as low as the #5 seed. A win over Cincinnati on the road guarantees that they finish no lower than the #2 seed. If Baltimore wins and New England loses, Baltimore would clinch the #1 overall seed; however, if Baltimore loses and Pittsburgh wins, Baltimore would fall below Pittsburgh and be stuck with the #5 seed.
Pittsburgh could also finish as high as #1 and as low as #5. If Pittsburgh wins on the road against Cleveland and Baltimore and New England lose, Pittsburgh would clinch the #1 overall seed. If Pittsburgh wins and Baltimore loses, Pittsburgh would clinch the #2 seed. If Baltimore wins or Pittsburgh loses, Pittsburgh would be stuck with the #5 seed.
Houston has no incentive to win their game against Tennessee, unless they want to ruin Tennessee's playoff hopes. Houston has locked up the #3 seed and will host the #6 seed in the first round of the playoffs, no matter what.
Denver's playoff hopes are in their (or dare I say Tebow's) hands. If they beat Kansas City at home, they win the AFC West. If they lose and Oakland wins, then Denver is eliminated from contention. There is absolutely no way they can win the Wild Card, it's AFC West. or bust for them.
Oakland can clinch either the 4th or
5th [Ed: 6th. Thanks, my mistake] seed. They must win to have any chance at all though. It is impossible for them to make the playoffs if they lose at home to San Diego. If Oakland wins, they would clinch the AFC West with a Denver loss. If both Oakland and Denver win, and Cinncinati loses, then Oakland would clinch the Wild Card.
Tennessee can clinch the Wild Card if they beat Houston on the road, and Cincinnati and Oakland lose.
The Jets can clinch the Wild Card if they beat Miami on the road, and Cincinnati, Oakland, and Tennessee lose.
Cincinnati will clinch the Wild Card with a win over Baltimore at home. If Cinncinnati loses, they can only get in if Tennessee, NY, and Oakland lose; OR if Tennessee, NY, and Denver lose, and Oakland wins.
Wow, so you can see that there is much to play for in Week 17. Even though all but 1 team has yet to be determined in the NFC, there is a lot of room for moving around among the qualified teams there. In the AFC, there are 4 teams vying for the 2 remaining playoff spots, and there is a lot of room for variation among the 4 qualified teams. Exciting stuff, for sure.
Finally, here's my weak attempt at a prediction for the first week of playoffs:
#1 Green Bay - BYE
#2 San Francisco - BYE
#3 New Orleans vs. #6 Detroit
#4 Dallas vs. #5 Atlanta
#1 New England - BYE
#2 Pittsburgh - BYE
#3 Houston vs. #6 Cincinnati
#4 Denver vs. #5 Baltimore
Division III National Championship tonight, featuring the epic matchup of Mount Union vs. Wisconsin-Whitewater.
On at 8 PM: Montana vs. Sam Houston State, one of the semifinal matches for the FCS NC playoff.
So - we have a lot of speculation around how a 'fair system should work'
Here is a formula suggested for a playoff system. It is inspired by the continental European club soccer championship.
EDIT - Changing number of games played to account for revenue, tradition et all.
STEP 1 - CONFERENCE PLAY
Each team plays a 10/ 11 game regular season
7 conference games against opponents in its division.
STEP 2 - CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP
At the end of the 10/11 games - the winners of each division play for the conference title. Nothin much has changed so far
STEP 3 - PLAYOFF QUALIFICATION
In the national playoff system (16 teams) - each conference champion gets an automatic in. This means 11 automatic bids of the 16 teams (Independents will get slotted into the playoffs). The number of bids for a single conference shall not exceed 3. If a conference is consistently performing weakly in the playoffs - it may have to play an additional game instead of an auto bid, The slot thus vacated becomes an auto-bid for another conference or an additional at-large slot.
Example - If the C-USA last never won any playoff game in the past 5 seasons and the B12 runner up has consistently sent teams to the at -large for the past 5 seasons - B12 may earn a second auto-bid. Or if no clear conference winner emerges then the C-USA autobid now becomes at at-large bid. C-USA will still be able to qualify using the at-large qualification route.
Based on strength of conference, better conferences may get an automatic second bid for the runner up. So, B1G, PAC12, SEC would likely get 2 auto bids. Smaller conference runner ups may play for an at-large bid along with independents.
So - now we have 11 autobid - first placed teams, 3 auto bid - second place teams, and 2 at large bids for independents and other second placed conference teams at initiation.
At large eligibility
1) Conference Champion of no autobid conference
2) Runner up of eligible conference
The highest ranked teams of eligible teams in the BCS poll will get the right to play for at-large playoff places.
Example - If 2 at-large bids are available - the top 4 ranked teams such that they are not in the playoffs through an autobid and champion/ runner up of a conference. In single matched, top ranked team plays lowest ranked team for booking a place in the playoff.
Higher ranked team plays the game at home
STEP 4 - PLAYOFF SEEDINGS/ PAIRINGS
Teams will be seeded according to their BCS rankings at the end of the regular season.
Pairings - Pairings are made such that the top 8 ranked teams in the playoffs do not play each other in the initial round.
The top 8 ranked teams get selected from a pool (called Champions) and bottom teams get selected from a pool (called Contenders).
Same conference teams do not play each other in the initial round even if a matchup is possible. This ensures no Championship game rematch is possible in the first round. Subsequent rounds may however force this. Example - Michigan is ranked 4 and Iowa is ranked 15 - they may not draw each other even though they may be eligible to play each other
Teams in Champions pool play their games at home.
STEP 5 - THE PLAYOFF
At this stage all teams should have played 8 or 9 games. In rare cases it may be 10 games if a team lost the Championship game, played in a qualifying round and became eligible for an at-large bid.
The winning 8 teams participate in 4 bowl games at their historic locations. Bowl games are now decided through a draw, where a each bowl pickss teams in a pre-determined order in a draft system. They may/ may not agree to keep the traditional conference tie-ins.
STEP 6 - ROAD TO NCG
The winners of the four bowl games will proceed to the Winner's Circle. Here the four will be randomly paired to play in two Grand Bowls for a chance to compete in the NCG. Grand Bowl locations can be either rotating around the country in an NFL stadium or one of the existing bowl locations.
STEP 7 - NCG Game
The winner of the 2 Grand Bowls will have the right to play in the NCG.
Long but fair I suppose.
Full report will be sent to Ace, but here is are some quick hits from tonights game.
La Costa Canyon wins 13-6 in a cold, sloppy game in southern California. Westview came into the game a double digit underdog, but led going into the 4th quarter after a 75yard TD catch by Taylor McNamara. A quick slant that he proceeded to break some tackles and dive in from the 3yards out to complete the play for a TD. La Costa Canyon powered their way down the field behind their strong offensive line and often found large holes going left behind Erik Magnusson. After taking the lead 13-6 with 5 minutes left, Magnusson had a huge 3rd down tackle when Westview was trying to respond on the next drive. Statistcally I'd guess La Costa out gained Westview by over 200 yards, but the cold conditions and the wet field led to some sloppy play and stalled out drives for LCC in the red zone.
I'll pass the stats and more impressions to Ace for his weekly roundup.
Go Blue! Beat Ohio!!
Jamal Crawford of my Atlanta Hawks is absolutely tearing it up in the playoffs. The Hawks, who currently lead the series against the Magic 3-1, has gotten significant contributions from my personal 6th man of the year. According to the commentator during the game tonight, Jamal Crawford is the first bench player since 1991 to score 20+ points in 4 straight playoff games. The last guy to do it was Kevin McHale.
For the playoffs, he's averaging 31 min, 24 pts, and has an Assist:Turnover Ratio of 3.2. His overall FG% is 47%, but he's shooting an insane 57% from beyond the arc, including that crazy banked 3 at the end of game 3 to go up 4 and ice the victory (one end-of-game bank I can get behind).
Aside from Jamal, the only other former Michigan player in these playoffs is Juwan Howard, who's averaging a couple minutes per game for the Heat.
We all prefer an undisputed national champion and most people agree that today's system is flawed. However, the Bowl system has its merits beyond crowning a National Champion, particularly that it adds another exciting game for fans of teams that are not candidates to win it all - such as Michigan most years (fact, don't hate me for it, let's just hope that changes).
The solution to the playoff question is so obvious no one can see it: Play more.
I know that football is and has always been a fall sport. I know that you will read my SN and hate on me for not recognizing American tradition. However, beyond "it's always been that way," please explain to me why football cannot be played for more than 4-5 months every year. Explain why most other sports in the world manage to have seasons that extend for at least 2/3rds of the year, but football can only be played for 1/3rd. Explain why our football hunger has to be starved during the beautiful spring when conditions are perfect for our favorite sport. Explain why stadiums that cost 100s of millions of dollars to build have to be left barren for such a large part of the year.
My dream setup would be a season with a fall schedule, a bowl season, a spring schedule and a playoff. We could play 8-9 games in the fall, teams with a winning record could get selected for Bowl games, those not selected would either get an extra spring game or not. The spring season could go from late February until the beginning of April where teams play 5-6 games, and an 8 or 16 team playoff could be played in late April with the final played in May.
Or it could be done differently, this is just one outline of how more of the year could be utilised. My point is that by playing more, we could get more football, the players would have more time between games to recover from injuries and the athletic departments would get more revenues. Everyone's a winner. Football is a year round sport for these athletes anyways, so the argument that they need to focus on their achademics is a moot point.
I know that football is the toughest sport in the world and demanding on the body, I have played it for 8 years in the US (HS) and abroad and I've been a fan for over 20 years. I am foreign, but I'm not ignorant. I don't buy the "football is so special our season has to be short"-argument. Maybe I'm wrong, but if you're playing that card, please show valid research to back it up.
The only argument I see against this is tradition, which is a very powerful and valid argument. However, I'm a dreamer and I would love to be looking forward to two more months of Denard now. Wouldn't you?