Sunday, December 28, 2014

A Change I Think Should Be Made to the NFL Playoffs

The Carolina Panthers, who today finished the 2014 NFL regular season with a sub-.500 record, are NFC South champions, and will host a playoff game next weekend against the 11-5 Arizona Cardinals.  I'm not thrilled that Carolina will get to host a postseason game against a team that, despite its late-season struggles, managed to win three-and-a-half more games than the Panthers during the course of the year.  This is why I'm proposing a change to the current NFL playoff system.

Right now, the NFC playoff match-ups for next weekend look like this, with games scheduled to be played at the home stadiums of the higher seeds:

(6) Detroit Lions (11-5) vs. (3) Dallas Cowboys (12-4)

(5) Arizona Cardinals (11-5) vs. (4) Carolina Panthers (7-8-1).

It doesn't look right that a Carolina team which won just seven-and-a-half games on the year qualified for the postseason, but I can deal with that since they won their division.  I think division champions should qualify for the tournament regardless of their record.  

The match-ups for next weekend's playoff games, however, definitely look off.  How could a Dallas team that won 12 games this year get a home game against the 11-win Lions?  All while the 7-8-1 Panthers get to host a first-round playoff game?  Some reward for the Cowboys!

This is why I'm proposing that the NFL begin seeding the teams in each conference after the regular season ends.  Under this format, the worst team to qualify for the playoffs would receive the sixth seed, regardless of whether they were division champions or not, followed by the team with the second-worst playoff record at the fifth seed, and so on.  If this setup were implemented tonight, this year's NFC playoffs would be seeded as follows:

(1) Seattle Seahawks
(2) Green Bay Packers
(3) Dallas Cowboys
(4) Arizona Cardinals
(5) Detroit Lions
(6) Carolina Panthers.

This makes more sense for everyone.  The teams that had successful seasons are rewarded with home games.  The Cowboys would get to play at AT&T Stadium against the Panthers, which I think would be more of a reward for a 12-win squad.  This method also makes more sense than allowing the Panthers to host a game against the Cardinals, who, as noted above, won three-and-a-half more games than their wild-card foes this year.

One could argue that perhaps Carolina shouldn't be allowed to enter the postseason at all since Philadelphia (10 wins) and San Francisco (8 wins) each had a record better than that of the Panthers (I believe it was Daryl Johnston who mentioned on Fox today that some people think the sub-.500 NFC South winner doesn't deserve a playoff berth because of the Eagles' superior record). But I'm beginning to think of the NFL playoffs like March Madness: The conference (in this case, the division) champions automatically qualify for the dance, and then are seeded based upon their regular-season performance.  It would be a little strange, in my opinion, for an NFL team to simultaneously win a division title and miss out on the playoffs.  

But when a division champion has a worse record than its playoff counterparts, it should be given a lower seed.  It doesn't make sense to reward NFL teams with poor records by giving them home playoff games.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

An Argument: The Saints Will Win the NFC South

The NFC South is terrible.  The four teams that make up the division have a combined win percentage of .330 so far this season. The division champion will have, at best, an 8-8 record.  But someone has to win that division.  Someone has to.  And I think that someone will be the New Orleans Saints.

The Saints are the best team in this very bad division.  They're currently in first place with a won-loss record of 6-8, just a half-game ahead of the 5-8-1 Carolina Panthers.  But the Saints' remaining schedule is entirely winnable: A home game against Atlanta followed by an away game against Tampa Bay.  The Falcons and Bucs are 26th- and 25th-best, respectively, in stopping their opponent from scoring.  The Saints, meanwhile, have the ninth-best scoring offense in the NFL.

New Orleans also has a better simple rating system (SRS, a stat) than any of their NFC South counterparts, even though their SRS for the season is -2.1 (0.0 is average).  Again, they're the best team in a bad division.

The biggest threat to the Saints is the Atlanta Falcons.  Atlanta has the tenth-best scoring offense in the league, and also plays its remaining schedule against incredibly poor scoring defenses in New Orleans and Carolina (28th-best and 23rd-best in points allowed per game, respectively).  The Falcons also have the second-best SRS rating among NFC South teams and play the Saints head-to-head this week.  A victory would make up the one-game difference with their division rivals, though Carolina would move ahead of both teams if they were to beat Cleveland and Atlanta defeated New Orleans.

But if you measure the Saints' margins of victory against those of the Falcons, you'll find New Orleans' to be more impressive. Atlanta's biggest win was a 56-14 blowout over Tampa Bay, a 42-point victory.  If you remove those 42 points from Atlanta's total margin of victory from their five wins, you'll find the Falcons other four triumphs this season came by an average of just 6.5 points per win. By contrast, the Saints beat Green Bay by three touchdowns, but still defeated Minnesota, Tampa Bay, Carolina, Pittsburgh, and Chicago by an average margin of 10.8 points per game.  

So here's my prediction for the NFC South this season: The Saints are the best of the worst, and will retain that title long enough to add another division championship to their resume.

**Note:  All stats and records used in this post came from, except for SRS ratings, which came from  Margins of victory for the Saints and Falcons were calculated by me using scores from Total win percentage for the NFC South was also calculated by me using records from

Monday, December 8, 2014

Three Minor Bowl Games You Should Watch

The Football Bowl Subdivision's December-January schedule is now set, and I'm sure that every big college football fan is now looking forward to the "New Year's Six."  But it's not just the College Football Playoff (CFP) semifinal games that you should be paying attention to if you're going to tune in to this year's postseason. Consider these three games this holiday season in addition to the biggest match-ups:

AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl - Arkansas (6-6) vs. Texas (6-6)
This game might not jump out at you, but there is at least one intriguing plot line: How will Arkansas perform?  They were 4-5 before shutting out SEC West opponents LSU and Ole Miss. They also lost to Mississippi State, Texas A&M, and Alabama by seven points, seven points, and one point, respectively.  The Razorbacks have a lot of freshmen and sophomores on their roster, so maybe there's a chance they'll play well against the Longhorns and turn things around next season.

Valero Alamo Bowl - Kansas State (9-3) vs. UCLA (9-3)
The Wildcats (11th in the College Football Playoff rankings) and Bruins (14th) are two of the three highest-ranked teams that didn't get picked for a New Year's Six bowl.  Personally, I'd be angry that Boise State (20th in the CFP rankings) made a New Year's Six bowl ahead of me, but the quality of the two teams involved in this one makes it a good match-up regardless.

National University Holiday Bowl - Nebraska (9-3) vs. USC (8-4)
Can the Trojans (24th in CFP rankings) put up another offensive performance like they did against Notre Dame?  That's my biggest question for Nebraska and USC's match-up on December 27th. The Trojans will face a Cornhuskers defense that gave up 24.8 points per game this season, tied for 49th-best of all Football Bowl Subdivision teams.