A vote against NFL playoff expansion

This first weekend of the NFL playoffs was interesting to say the least. Brian Hoyer looked colorblind. Aaron Rodgers returned to superhuman form. Blair Walsh missed a chip shot. The Bengals and Steelers got physical with each other. It was equal parts surprising and exciting. For the most part, it delivered on all of the hype.

Roger_Goodell
Roger Goodell has pushed for expanding the NFL season either by adding two more regular season games or two playoff games.

There were definitely things that could have improved the weekend. A better showing from Houston. Shorter games maybe. The one thing that definitely was not missing? Another set of games in each conference.

Over the past few years, there have been whispers about the NFL expanded its current playoff field to 14 teams from the 12-team format. The highlights of the plan would be to add another game, increase the suspense and make the road to the Super Bowl even tougher.

After this season though, I cannot imagine a reason to include two more teams. It simply seems unnecessary. The quality of the competition would drop. Already we saw what happened with the weakest division winners making the playoffs. Houston was embarrassed by Kansas City and Washington found Green Bay way too much to handle. Any games added by introducing more teams would likely be a bust. Sure, the Jets playing the Patriots in Foxborough would be exciting. Watching Arizona trash a .500 Atlanta team, that is something I could live without. It wouldn’t be good football. These mid-tiered teams would just be outmatched.

Moreover, they don’t deserve it. People spent a great deal of time complaining about how weak the AFC South and NFC East was this season. Across message boards and comment sections, there were calls for the NFL to reformat so that these teams that won each division would not automatically receive a bid to the postseason. The argument was that they did not have good enough records to make the playoffs. In the case of Houston, that turned out to be true, as the Jets had a better record, but the Texans made the playoffs instead. If those teams, who were division winners, were not good enough to qualify for the postseason, then why would teams even further down the list be considered in playoff expansion?

I am of the mentality that for a team to really be good enough to compete in the playoffs, they should have a winning record. Only one team that did not qualify for the postseason this year had a winning record. That was the Jets. Some others were close, like Atlanta and Indianapolis, but they finished at .500. In other words, they were average. It is pretty easy to argue that the Jets did not deserve to make the playoffs either. New York only beat two teams with winning records this year. In the NFL, we don’t want to see average teams make the playoffs. We want the best of the best so we can see some truly iconic and terrific games.

In the NFL, teams are made to be average. It is rare that there are 14 teams nowadays that have winning records. Only once in the past five seasons have there been at least 14 teams above .500 at the end of the season. It is not easy to get those kinds of results any more. The league is full of parity. It is also a bit ambitious to expect close to half the league to win more than half of their games.

The morale here? 12 is good. 12 is great. That potentially even more than we need. It is nice to keep the hope of some Cinderella teams alive (see 2007 Giants, 2009 Cardinals). However, introducing even more of them would just be overkill. It would detract from the postseason more than it would add to it. Let’s just keep this as it is and put this conversation of expansion to bed.

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NFL Playoff Predictions: Wildcard Round

I wish I had a rooting interest in this year’s playoffs, but all the same, this is going to be a year to remember. There are tons of great storylines and some incredible games to be played and that starts today with Wildcard Weekend. Let’s start predicting some matchups.

Kansas City vs. Houston
2014 NFL Pro BowlFar from the sexiest matchup of the wildcard round. In fact, I would go as far as to say it is the least exciting. Still well worth watching though, which lets you know how great these playoffs will be. This projects to be more of a defensive struggle. Duane Brown’s injury is already a big blow to the Texans offense. Houston overall was lucky to make the playoffs. I think Alex Smith will show everyone his ability to handle the pressure of a playoff game. Charcandrick West and Stephen Ware should also help wear down a stout Texans defensive front. Mixing a mediocre Houston offense and the league’s third best scoring defense sounds like a recipe for disaster. I think the Chiefs will win this comfortably, 24-10.

Pittsburgh vs. Cincinnati
DeAngelo_WilliamsNothing beats a divisional battle in the playoffs. If it couldn’t be Steelers-Ravens, (one of the best rivalries in NFL history) then I’m happy it could at least be Steelers-Bengals. These two split the season series, with the road team winning each matchup. I don’t think we are going to see that trend continue. I know Cincy is still without Andy Dalton but an even bigger blow comes on the other side. Pittsburgh will be without DeAngelo Williams, meaning that Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman will be carrying the load for the Steelers. For as much as this team relies on Ben Roethlisberger, I think they are going to be too one-dimensional. Throwing the ball constantly doesn’t allow you to control the game offensively and I don’t think the Steelers will be able to close it out late. A.J. McCarron has had a few weeks to learn the offense. Hue Jackson is one of the best offensive coordinators in the league and I think he will have a plan to upend the rival Steelers. Final score, Bengals 31 – Steelers 27

Seattle vs. Minnesota
Russell_WilsonMany are pointing at the midseason meeting between these two teams as the reason for why Seattle will win again. I don’t think it means anything how these two previously played. The Seahawks rode Thomas Rawls for a good portion of that victory. Rawls will not be playing on Sunday and neither will Marshawn Lynch. Russell Wilson is truly going to have no running game to support him in this one. Christine Michael will be the starting running back for the Hawks. Going up against a defense like Minnesota’s, that doesn’t bode well. That being said, this defense knows how to bottle up Adrian Peterson and will force Teddy Bridgewater to beat them with his arm. Bridgewater does not have a ton of weapons of his own in the passing game that will likely win one-on-matchups with this Seattle secondary. If this is a duel between Bridgewater and Wilson, I am taking Wilson every time. Seattle wins this blizzard bowl 21-10.

Green Bay vs. Washington
Kirk_CousinsThis is not a game many would have predicted at the beginning of the year. I for one though Washington would not come anywhere near the playoffs. I doubt many would have guessed that Green Bay would be on the road either. As much as I like Aaron Rodgers, especially in the playoffs, I don’t think he will be leaving the nation’s capital with a win. The Packers have failed to find any consistency on offense, whether it be running or passing. On the flip side, Kirk Cousins has been on fire for Washington. He’s been yelling, “You like that!” a lot, which is good news for this DC team. I think Washington’s passing attack will prove too much for an underwhelming Packers’ secondary to handle.¬†Momentum has a lot to do with this one. Washington has won four straight while Green Bay has dropped its last two.¬† It will be close but I think Washington will win its first playoff game in 10 years, 27-24.