Saturday, January 17, 2009

NFL Picks: Championship Sunday

Last Week: 2-2
Playoffs: 3-5
Overall: 168-95-1

And then there were four. These are especially heady times in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, as the area’s three teams all have a chance to go to the Super Bowl, with the Steelers and Ravens playing each other and the Eagles traveling out to Arizona. Did you know that Harrisburg is closer to Baltimore than it is to Pittsburgh or Philadelphia? On to the picks…

Philadelphia at Arizona: Hell has definitely frozen over. The formerly sad-sack Cardinals find themselves hosting their second playoff game in three weeks, after not hosting one since the Truman administration when they played in Chicago. They find themselves hosting the Eagles, who were a mediocre team before coach Andy Reid briefly benched QB Donovan McNabb before putting him back in the starting lineup. The Cardinals have discovered defense in the playoffs, or at least enough to allow Kurt Warner and company to outscore opponents. I love Kurt Warner, and I’d love to see the Cardinals win, but I don’t see it happening. The Eagles are the hot team here. Pick: Philly

Baltimore at Pittsburgh: These two teams despise each other. The Steelers have won two close games over the Ravens this season. Normally, it’s really hard for a team to beat another good team three times in one season. But, the Ravens have been playing for 15 consecutive weeks, since their bye week was moved to Week 2 due to the rescheduling of their game in Houston due to Hurricane Ike. The Ravens should have enough in the tank to make this a good game. However, the Steelers will make one fewer mistake and win a trip to their seventh Super Bowl. Pick: Pittsburgh

Monday, January 12, 2009

A Need For Slight Change

This year’s NFL playoffs have been interesting, to say the least. The visiting team won three of four games this weekend, and has won five of the eight games played to date. Parity in the league has contributed to the lack of home field advantage. However, don’t be surprised to see the league tweak the seeding system for the playoffs in future years.

Cases in point: the Arizona Cardinals and San Diego Chargers. The Cardinals finished 9-7 and the Chargers finished 8-8. Both teams made the playoffs by winning weak divisions. The NFL rewards division winners with a home game in the first round of the playoffs. So, both teams hosted teams with better records in the first round of the playoffs: the Cardinals hosted 11-5 Atlanta, while the Chargers hosted 12-4 Indianapolis. Both teams won their first round games over teams that had much better regular seasons. It can be argued that the Falcons and Colts were penalized for not winning divisions that happened to have a stronger team in it.

The NFL could very well seed playoff teams based solely on record. If they were to do so, the AFC could have been seeded thusly:
1) Tennessee
2) Indianapolis (tiebreaker, due to their win over Pittsburgh)
3) Pittsburgh
4) Baltimore (tiebreaker, due to their win over Miami)
5) Miami
6) San Diego

In this scenario, the Chargers would have traveled to Pittsburgh for a first round game, while the Dolphins would have traveled to Baltimore. The Colts would not have been penalized for being in the same division with the Titans, but would have been rewarded for winning 12 games.

In the NFC, a similar scenario exists. By applying this proposal, the NFC would have been seeded thusly:
1) New York Giants
2) Carolina
3) Atlanta
4) Minnesota
5) Philadelphia
6) Arizona

The Cardinals would have still played the Falcons, only in Atlanta. The Eagles would still have traveled to Minnesota. In addition, a situation like what happened with the Cardinals could have been avoided. Arizona clinched the awful NFC West with three games to play, and had very little chance to move up in the seedings, but were guaranteed a home game. Thus, they played lethargically in their last three games, including an annihilation in the snow at New England. The Cardinals would have been forced to continue to try to earn a home game in addition to the division title they had already won. This would have improved competition in the final weeks of the season. Plus, under this seeding plan, the Eagles would host the upcoming NFC championship game since they have a better record than the Cardinals.

Another argument is made by fans of the New England Patriots, who sat at home with an 11-5 record: why not let the teams with the best records in the playoffs, period? That is a valid point. However, with the divisional schedule, it is best to reward the winner of a division with at least a trip to the playoffs. A home game is icing on the cake, but the division winner must be rewarded in order to bring some integrity to divisional play, especially with unbalanced schedules. Otherwise, divisions are only means for scheduling and nothing else.

At least the NFC East can’t cut a deal for its third place team to meet the fourth place team from the AFC West in a meaningless bowl game in Birmingham or Shreveport..