Sunday, January 3, 2010

NFL Week 17, aka The Second Preseason

Any gambler who bets the NFL in Week 17 is a fool. It's so much like betting the preseason: So many teams are resting starters for the playoffs and so many others are playing the young backups to see what they've got for 2010, that the team playing resembles little of the team that played in the same laundry the previous 16 weeks. There's no way to tell how any game is going to go in Week 17.

And the NFL wants to lengthen the regular season by two games. Great, so top seeds can clinch earlier and play 1-2 more throwaway games, while bad teams can play a couple more meaningless games and pile up a couple more losses. Let's learn from the NHL, NBA and MLB: Sure, the longer the season is, the more likely the best teams rise above the lesser teams... but the sooner before the end of the season the bad teams fall out and the more meaningless games that get played.

What they ought to do is add four more wildcards and eliminate the 1st round bye. Roger Goodell will like that because it means more $$$$$$, and address that whole "#1 seeds quitting on late season games" problem.

Adding two more playoff spots in each Conference gives more 8-7 and 7-8 teams something to play for in Week 17, as well as force those top seeds to stay sharp and not camp regulars on the bench for half the game in the last 2 games, since they'll have to play on the opening playoff weekend like everyone else (even if it is against some beatable 8-8 scrub team) instead of getting that week off as they do now.

Sure, you can argue there may be more incentive for top teams to camp the starters since they won't have that rest during Wildcard weekend. But there's just as much of an argument that the starters will need to maintain their chops because they'll have a do-or-die game in one week... and that'll be harder to do if they sleepwalk through a half and then take a seat, or sit for the game entirely. Many teams will opt to play their guys instead of risking rust with a benching.

Honestly, if I had it my way I'd eliminate the wildcards and only let the eight division champs make the playoffs... but the NFL would never do that because they'd lose four cash cows ERRRRRR wildcard games, and granted it would lead to more meaningless late season games since fewer teams would be in the hunt. So I can accept that the current playoff format either needs to stay or expand.

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