It has become a right of passage each NFL off-season: Commissioner Roger Goodell throwing out one of his trial balloons during a league function. It usually involves, in no particular order.
- Bringing a NFL franchise back to Los Angeles, which would include getting a stadium financed with inflated Southern California dollars.
- Outsourcing even more regular season games to London and eventually placing a franchise full-time there.
- Expansion of the regular season schedule to 18 games, with two of the current four games chopped from the pre-season.
- Expanding the NFL playoffs to 14 or even 16 teams, which would result in potentially 50% of the league making post-season play.
Let’s look at these one by one.
About the one-thousandth financing plan for the long-proposed Farmers Field, which would be built across from the Staples Center, recently fell through. So football fans in San Diego, Oakland, St. Louis, and Jacksonville can chill a while longer.
The Goodell pipe dream of a full-time team in London has got to go. The idea is as ridiculous as Gus Johnson calling soccer or Real Salt Lake earning promotion to the English Premier League. Square peg, meet round hole. Goodell will finally realize this when more empty seats start popping up at Wembly Stadium for the two games scheduled this coming year.
The 18-game season idea remains a perennial elephant in the room. It is not the best idea considering the issues with injuries and player safety that already exist. Sixteen is a more acceptable number of games.
But a 16-team post-season? Guess what – On this one, I’ll take the Commish up!
I am not looking at your traditional straight elimination (#1 v. #8, #4 v. #5, etc.) format. But don’t worry, I’m also not thinking round-robin pool play and total points differential tie-breakers neither.
Let me introduce you to what I’ll call, for lack of a better term, the ‘Aussie Rules’ format.
One of the bummers regarding the current NFL playoff format is that at the end of regular season play, a mere 11 games remain on the schedule. The Aussie format expands on the normal elimination formula.
It is a template that is not only used in Aussie Rules Football, but Australian NRL rugby and Australian ‘A-League’ soccer as well. At first I had no idea on figuring out the format, but you can find a quick Wikipedia primer here.
In essence, one week would be added to the current NFL playoff season. The four division winners in each conference would earn the first four seeds and would play the first weekend in the ‘qualification bracket’, while four Wild Card teams would be seeded fifth through eighth, and be placed in the ‘elimination bracket’.
This past season, the Chicago Bears and New York Giants would have earned the final two playoff slots out of the NFC while the 8-8 Pittsburgh Steelers and 7-9 San Diego Chargers would had been the seventh and eighth place representatives out of the AFC.
The playoffs would then proceed as follows….
WEEK 1 (Qualification Round)
‘Qualification Bracket’ – In each conference, The #1 seed would host the #4 seed, while the #2 seed hosts the #3 seed. But the losers of these games are not eliminated from the playoffs. The Division Winners would get what would be known as a ‘double chance’. The winner of these games would earn a bye in Week 2 and then host a Divisional Playoff Game in Week 3.
The teams involved in these games could very well see each other again in the playoffs, but not until the Conference Championship. More on that later.
‘Elimination Bracket’ – The #5 seeds hosts the #8 seed, the #6 seed hosts the #7 seed. For those teams, it is simply win or go home. At the end of this weekend four of the 16 playoff participants would be done for the season.
WEEK 2 (Wild Card Round)
From this point on the format is very much like the current system nearly all NFL fans are accustomed to, and all games are elimination from this point forward.
The loser of the #1 v. #4 Qualification Game would host the winner of the #5 v. #8 Elimination Game, while the loser of the #2 v. #3 Qualification hosts the #6 v. #7 Elimination survivor. Winners of these games move on to the Round of Eight Divisional Playoffs.
WEEK 3 (Divisional Round)
This is a change from the current system, which sees the top seed play the lowest remaining seed. The winner of the #1/#4 v. #5/#8 Wild Card Game would meet the winner of the #2 v. #3 Qualification Game (from Week 1), while the winner of #2/#3 v. #6/#7 faces the winner of the #1/#4 Qualification.
The Wild Card winners ‘cross over’ into the other bracket simply to avoid rematches of Week 1 games. If paint were to hold to this point, #1 would host #3, while #2 hosts #4. It is possible for the top two seeds in each conference to play in this round, although they could also possibly play in the Conference Championship.
WEEK 4 (Conference Championship)
You know the drill at this point, last four teams standing.
WEEK 5 (Super Bowl)
Under this system, securing a top seed remains as important as ever…
- The top two seeds in each conference would be ensured two home playoff games, the Week 1 Qualification Bracket Game, and then either the Week 3 Divisional Playoff (in event of a win), or the Week 2 Wild Card Game (in case of a loss).
- The #3 and #4 seeds are ensured two games, with one at home – These teams would host a Divisional Round game with a Qualification Round win, or otherwise would host a Week 2 Wild Card.
- The #5/#6 seeds earn home field for the Week 1 Elimination Bracket Game. These teams would not host another playoff game unless they were to face a lower seed in the conference championship.
- The seven and eight seeds would almost certainly need to win four straight road games to reach the Super Bowl. The #7 obviously would host the Conference Championship only if somehow the #8 seed came from the other side.
TEST CASE – 2012 PLAYOFFS
Let’s put this to the test with some hypothetical results thrown in from January’s playoffs…
Qualification: #4 Baltimore at #1 Denver, #3 Houston at #2 New England
Elimination: #8 San Diego at #5 Indianapolis, #7 Pittsburgh at # 6 Cincinnati
Qualification: #4 Washington at #1 Atlanta, #3 Green Bay at #2 San Francisco
Elimination: #8 NY Giants at #5 Seattle, #7 Chicago at #6 Minnesota
Not bad for a first round – a couple divisional rivalries thrown in the elimination chamber along with the Giants at Seattle – also nice to see the top dogs playing right out of the shoot.
For the sake of simulation, we’ll have the following occur:
Baltimore wins at Denver (like they did for real), and New England wins as well. San Diego’s season ends at Indy while we have the Steelers winning in Cincinnati, just to throw in an upset.
Meanwhile, in the NFC – Robert Griffin gets hurt early and the Skins go down in Atlanta, while Colin Kaepernick runs wild on the Packers, like he did in the actual divisional playoff.
Since Christian Ponder was hurt and inactive for the first round of the playoffs, we’ll have the Vikings losing at home to the Bears, while the Giants fall just short in Seattle.
The Ravens, Patriots, Falcons, and Niners all punch tickets to the Divisional Round.
WEEK 2 (Wild Card)
AFC – #5 Indianapolis at #1 Denver, #7 Pittsburgh at #3 Houston
NFC – #5 Seattle at #4 Washington, #7 Chicago at #3 Green Bay
Unlike their one-and-done effort in the actual AFC Playoffs, the Broncos get a second chance, and Peyton Manning takes down his Indy successor Andrew Luck at Mile High. And just for upsets sake, we’ll have Houston going two-and-out at the hands of the Steelers.
Backup Kirk Cousins gives it a go, but the Skins fall at home to the Seahawks. In the other NFC clash, the actual ‘Border Battle CV’ between the Pack and Vikes is replaced with Bears/Pack for the second time in three years, and Lovie Smith gets one more chance to beat Green Bay, which he knows is a pre-requisite for his performance review
The Packers win for the third time in the season, and Lovie gets his pink slip the next day.
WEEK 3 (Divisional)
AFC – #7 Pittsburgh at #4 Baltimore, #1 Denver at #2 New England
NFC – #3 Green Bay at #1 Atlanta, #5 Seattle at #2 San Francisco
One more wrinkle, the loser of the Week 1 Qualification game becomes a Wild Card team, and thus has to go on the road for the Divisional Round, that’s why I have Broncos at Pats. If Denver would win, then they would re-earn their #1 seed and host the AFC Championship. I have this in place to keep a team from hosting four weeks in a row.
Meanwhile hype is building around the Steelers. Is it possible they could do even better than their Super Bowl XL run and win four straight on the road to get to the big game?? I say no. I have the Ravens and Pats winning in the AFC.
Then there are the Falcons. In the actual NFL Playoffs, they did not complete their choke to the Seattle Seahawks, but it was not for lack of trying. They would not be so fortunate here. In the other game, a rivalry is officially born as the Seahawks lose to the Niners in overtime of an instant classic.
WEEK 4 (Conference Championship)
AFC – #4 Baltimore at #2 New England
NFC – #3 Green Bay at #2 San Francisco
Here is your rematch. Would Dom Capers have any better game plan to stop Kaepernick three weeks later? Or would the Niners dominate the Pack for the third time in the season? We’ll have Ravens/Niners advance from here and play in the big game as they did in actuality.
This would be some pretty compelling stuff, with the extra week and additional story lines put in. And depending on how the league wants to play it, they could also sneak the Conference Championships into the February sweeps period.
This would also expand the NFL post-season schedule from 11 to 19 games. And if forced to choose the lesser of two evils between an 18-game regular season (32 extra games, many of them would be meaningless) and eight extra playoff games, I’ll go with half of the teams playing one extra game, and the league would likely reel in as much revenue as they would with the 18-game season.
As a condition to accepting the new playoff format, I would insist the league shelve any ideas of the 18-game season FOR-EVER, right along with putting a franchise in London.
TV scheduling for the eight-game first round would be another issue, obviously a couple of games would have to be played simultaneously that weekend, as was the case with the 16-team playoff after the 1982 strike season. Staggering a couple of start times and getting additional TV partners such as ESPN or NFL Network would be an option to ensure that all games are available nationally.
So – there it is, just throwing it out there. Roger Goodell can thank me when he throws this balloon into the wind … then gets called out by Jared Allen and Chris Kluwe.