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Reading one of Andrew Sharp’s whimsical #HotSportsTakes yesterday on Grantland (which I still agreed with in parts), I discovered this tweet from Detroit Tiger’s ace/2011’s American League Cy Young winner/Kate Upton’s “on-again” boyfriend Justin Verlander1:

Just a quick aside: Verlander’s current profile-description-about-me thing on Twitter reads: “My house smells of rich mahagony and I have many leather bound books! -Anchorman”. Hold on, I have to go follow Justin Verlander on Twitter. Back. Wait, I have to tell Justin Verlander that he’s misspelling mahogany.

Okay, back. Hang on, that’s not even the quote, Ron Burgandy mentions the leather-bound books first… one sec.

Okay, all set. Remember this?

It’s David Ortiz, at home in the playoffs, hitting a game-tying grand slam off Tigers’ closer Joaquin Benoit with two outs in the eighth inning. What if after circling the bases, Ortiz had screamed this into the cameras:

I’M THE BEST HITTER IN THE GAME! WHEN YOU TRY ME WITH A SORRY PITCHER LIKE BENOIT, THAT’S THE RESULT YOU GON’ GET! DON’T YOU EVER TALK ABOUT ME! DON’T YOU OPEN YOUR MOUTH ABOUT THE BEST!

Questions to consider: Would baseball be better or worse? How quickly would Ortiz be forced to apologize (if at all)? Would people like to see him suspended? Would people be concerned he was taking performance enhancing drugs that also affected his behavior? (And wouldn’t people find this outburst just f#!%ing bizarre?)

Setting aside those questions, one thing is clear: if Ortiz had said that, Verlander, and presumably other Tigers pitchers, would throw 95+ mile-per-hour fastballs at Ortiz’s head.2 Baseball has a built-in corrective mechanism for such antics. There is a league office to fine players, the risk of ejection, and rarely a beaning will start a full-scale brawl, but players learn to keep their showboating to a minimum, lest they spend the rest of their at bats fearfully ducking for cover.

This got me thinking about other sports. As a fan, my general perception is that the NFL and NBA have more rude, childish behavior than the NHL and MLB. Perhaps this has more to do with the physical consequences–both their magnitude and their ease of execution–players can inflict on one another.

Such physical dangers are relative to the baseline for the sport. Football is quite physical already. The little catfights NFL players get into, while perhaps drawing a 15 yard penalty, do not pose any additional pains. Basketball has a lot of contact, although less forceful. Shoving matches and the occasional punch are more or less on par with the physicality in the game itself.

Baseball and hockey are different. In MLB, physical contact is very rare, while pitchers can easily brush off opponent hitters. Hockey has a lot of hitting, though it’s often more fluid than in other sports. A hockey player is a scarred player, but longer-term tears and breaks are less common.

Like baseball, hockey has a built-in mechanism for players who show off, taunt, and are generally just dicks. Enforcers and fighting are ingrained in hockey, and the two-minute penalties that come with them are frequently off-setting. NHL fighting penalties are usually not worse than any other penalty, and the players who receive them are usually less skilled. The NHL and MLB have milder deterrents for hitting back.

Is there actually less needless, immature, look-at-me, plain obnoxious behavior in MLB and the NHL than in the NFL and NBA? It’s hard to say. An exhaustive study would take a lot of thought and work. Googling a few things and drawing sketchy conclusions, however, is not too hard.

The table below shows the number of Google hits for some particular search terms, as of earlier this afternoon, January 23rd, 2013. The search terms are on the left; for example, the NFL search terms were “nfl”, “nfl football”, “nfl playoffs”, “nfl taunting”, “nfl taunts”, “nfl trash talk”, and “nfl insults”.

Trash Talk by Sport, Google Hits, 1/23/2014

[league] + “…” NFL NBA NHL MLB
[league only] 118,000,000 186,000,000 52,300,000 105,000,000
[league + sport] 553,000,000 360,000,000 189,000,000 136,000,000
Playoffs 126,000,000 98,000,000 61,400,000 87,700,000
~([league + sport] – Playoffs)~ 427,000,000 262,000,000 127,600,000 48,300,000
Taunting 515,000 241,000 147,000 132,000
Taunts 533,000 295,000 162,000 189,000
Trash Talk 13,800,000 11,600,000 956,000 1,050,000
Insults 2,710,000 1,900,000 392,000 296,000

Neat-O! While “taunting” and “taunts” did not yield much difference, there are many times as many hits for “trash talk” and “insults” in the NFL and NBA than in the NHL and MLB. Might that be conflated by the fact that some leagues are more or less popular than others? That is why I have included baseline numbers for each league. How about the fact that MLB is in the off-season currently, while the NBA and NHL are in full swing, and the NFL’s popularity is likely peaking as Super Bowl XLVIII nears?

Those are valid concerns, also this is not a scientific study in any way. To maybe-sorta-kinda get an idea, here are the Google hits for each sport’s “trash talk”, as a percentage of the playoffs-adjusted number of Google hits for [league + sport].3

Trash Talk by Sport, Google Hits Percentage, 1/23/2014

[league] + “…” NFL NBA NHL MLB
Trash Talk 3.23% 4.43% 0.75% 2.17%

There you have it! Football and basketball have to put up with more of this nonsense than hockey and baseball because it is easier for hockey and baseball players to punch back, with more bite, and fewer punishments from their leagues’ offices. From an individual (or microeconomic) perspective, running your mouth is more costly in the NHL and MLB than in the NFL and NBA.

As much as I might respect Sherman as a football player, and loath his (un)professional conduct, I have got to hand it to the Stanford communications major. He is really good at what he does. In the span of just a few hours he gave us this:

NFC Championship - San Francisco 49ers v Seattle SeahawksAnd this:

Screenshot (89)The adage “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” is there, if you want it. But in this case, I choose another old favorite: hate the game, not the player.


  1. Tagline for this already-extensively-titled post: “the intersection of Andrew Sharp, Cy Young, Kate Upton, and Justin Verlander”. Catchy, right? 
  2. If not immediately, in the midst of a tight playoff game, then later in the series during a game that was in hand, or certainly in a game this coming season. 
  3. Ie, the number of hits for “nfl football” minus the number of hits for “nfl playoffs”. Why this number? It scales better than other figures to the number of hits for “trash talk” and “insults” across all four sports, and more importantly, WHY NOT

Last Week: 1-3. Playoffs: 3-4-1. Regular Season: 53-49-3. My Entire Life: 56-53-4.

Lines from Sportsbook.com; home team in CAPS.

Patriots (+5) over BRONCOS

I cannot believe I just did that. That is a dumb pick. It is ridiculous. But then, so is the Pats’ season. This quote from Grantland’s Robert Mays describes the Patriots chances as thus: “I think they can win, but it’s hard for me to imagine how they might win.” Yeah. Agreed.

Actually, no. Be rational, Colin! Peyton Manning in of his best passing attacks ever, against a wounded Aqib Talib and Alfonzo Dennard, the guy who assaulted a police officer the night before the NFL draft?

Patriots (+5) over BRONCOS
BRONCOS (-5) over Patriots

Hmm. That looks better, right?

49ers (+3.5) over SEAHAWKS

Seattle 71 – San Francisco 16. That is the cumulative score of the last two games these teams played in Seattle. As written about before, the “extra” home field advantage of Century Link Field is something of a myth, but home field advantage is certainly a thing. Additionally, my mother informs me that Alaska Airlines is offering early boarding to all passengers sporting Seahawks garb at the gate. Hm. In the end, I just believe in the 49ers. Yes, this could just be Blowout 3.0, but… if the 49ers stay focused and avoid mistakes, they will be in good shape. GO, TEAM, GO!

Most football analysis requires expertise. But some plays, even amid unknown audibles, blocking schemes, options, etc, are simple enough for the common fan (such as myself, or yourself) to understand. Sometimes it is clear that no matter what else was going on, player X beat player Y for a big play. Let’s look at two very similar, very big plays from the 49ers 23-10 victory over the Panthers in the NFC Divisional Round game from last Sunday.

Up 7-6 with 6:35 left to go in the second quarter on a first and goal from the 49er seven, Cam Newton rushes around left end before NaVorro Bowman tackles him at the one for a six yard gain.

Here is the scene at the snap. Bowman is the right inside linebacker on this play, next to Patrick Willis, their other inside linebacker, who is standing on the hash marks five yards behind the line of scrimmage. Nose tackle Glenn Dorsey is lined up in front of Willis, directly over center with his left hand in the grass at the line of scrimmage.

Screenshot (2)Three seconds later the Panthers have four blockers to handle the three 49ers on the left edge at the line of scrimmage, between the six and seven yard lines. Newton’s chances of reaching the end zone look good. Panthers guards Travelle Wharton and Chris Scott–numbers 70 and 75–are closing in on Bowman, number 53. Center Ryan Kalil has moved Dorsey–number 90–back a couple yards, but Dorsey is still upright and in pursuit.Screenshot (6)Wharton engages Bowman on the five yard line, just in front of the rushing Newton. Dorsey–number 90–has shed Kalil–number 67–but he likely will be unable to move his 297 pounds into Newton’s path in time; Scott–number 75–sees him coming into the play.Screenshot (9)Now Wharton is blocking air, and Newton–number one–is going down, grabbed by the mostly hidden Bowman. Scott has broken away from Bowman and moves to block Dorsey, number 90. This has all happened in one second, from 6:32 on the game clock to 6:31.Screenshot (11)And what just happened, exactly? Let’s take another look, Joe! This is another view from the instant replay provided by FOX.  Newton breaks around the edge as Wharton–number 70–moves to block Bowman.

Screenshot (49)Wharton engages Bowman. Scott–number 75–sees Dorsey coming in. The Panthers look all set to escort Newton into the end zone.Screenshot (51)Bowman starts to shed Wharton and clear his path to Newton, number one. Scott–number 75– breaks towards Dorsey, number 90.Screenshot (53)Bowman, having freed himself of Wharton, and with his teammate Dorsey occupying Scott’s attention, meets Newton head-on at the five yard line. Just from these screen shots, it seems that if Newton had cut left around Wharton, he would have scored. Watching in real-time reveals that Bowman purposefully sheds Wharton in this direction to meet Newton after Newton had already cut inside.1

Screenshot (55)And there is our hero, emerging triumphant from the pile at the one yard line. Dorsey himself ended up getting in there too; he is the horizontal 49er next to Bowman.Screenshot (58)At the time Bowman’s outstanding effort (along with the teamwork of Dorsey, not to mention the other nine 49ers out there) seemed trivial. The Panthers would still have second and goal from the one yard line. The 49ers defense, as indicated by plays such as this, and their previous goal line stand, is certainly good, but generally even bad offenses against good defenses are going to score a touchdown given second and goal from the one. Brian Burke, of Advanced NFL Stats, noted on Twitter that in the past two seasons, the 49ers had given up touchdowns on 10 of 15 plays from their own one yard line. But they did not this time. The held the Panthers through third down, and Ron Rivera quite unwisely2 opted for a field goal. Bowman’s tackle, aided by Dorsey’s continual pursuit, saved four points.

Up 13-10 with 8:59 left in the third quarter on a second and goal from the Panther four, Colin Kaepernick rushes around left end and scores a touchdown.

This is the snap. Panthers cornerback Drayton Florence is following 49ers wide receiver Quinton Patton–number 11– to the offense’s left side. Linebacker Luke Kuechly is lined up on the goal line just to the referee’s right; safety Mike Mitchell is at the near hash marks, on the goal line to the right of Kuechly. 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree is wide left, with Anquan Boldin in the left slot.

Screenshot (19)Kaepernick breaks left, following Patton. But left tackle Joe Staley is down on the goal line after having missed his block on Luke Kuechly, now at the two yard line on the far hash marks and breaking into the play. The corner Florence, originally chasing Patton, is now a yard deep in the end zone, also unblocked, and seemingly in good position to stop Kaepernick. The safety Mitchell is moving in from the two yard line on the near hash marks. Patton is now Kaepernick’s only blocker for the three Panthers.Screenshot (21)Patton engages Mitchell, but Kuechly is covering the lane to Kaepernick’s right, and Florence the lane to the left.Screenshot (22)Kaepernick (or “Fleetfeet”, as is about to become appropriately apparent) breaks left. Mitchell–number 21–has released off of Patton and is closing in. Kuechly–number 59– has come around them both and is also closing in. Florence is also closing in–wait, no, he is heading up field and taking himself completely out of the play, unless merely brushing Kaepernick with his outstretched hand will suffice. Boldin and Crabtree, in the lower left, finish their blocks on the outside.Screenshot (25)Kaepernick dashes past Florence and Mitchell, and Kuechly reaches out with his right hand…Screenshot (26) …and gets nothing. Kaepernick strides into the end zone.Screenshot (27)Touchdown 49ers! Screenshot (28)None of the three Panthers–not Florence, not Mitchell, not Kuechly–even register a missed tackle, because they do not even get close enough to attempt one. But all three of them miss Kaepernick, Florence by far the hardest of all. His poor angle, combined with Kaepernick’s speed, were enough for a touchdown, despite the fact that the 49ers blockers were outnumbered.

The Panthers are a very good football team. These two plays show how the 49ers beat them.3 Being a little bit stronger, a little bit faster, and making better snap judgements (whom to block, what angle to take) a little more quickly is often all the difference in the NFL.


  1. Unfortunately video of the play, outside of NFL Game Rewind, seems to be unavailable. 
  2. Personally, I have never been so delighted to see my team’s opponents kick a field goal in my entire life. I am not even going to break out Brian Burke’s fourth down calculator and check to see what the baseline percentages for going for it are. Remember that earlier 49ers goal line stand? Remember how when the 49ers offense took over the ball on their own half yard line, they were so concerned about a safety/blocked punt/etc that they ran a quarterback sneak on first and ten? Remember on when Colin Kaepernick almost threw an interception inside his ten yard line? Remember when Andy Lee punted after the three and out and Ted Ginn Jr. returned the ball to the 49er thirty-one yard line, and the Panthers scored a touchdown on the next play? Remember how seven points is more than twice as many as three? Even if the Panthers had not converted yet again, they would still have been in great shape. 
  3. There were some questionable calls by the referees. They seemingly missed catching the 49ers with 12 men in the huddle; however, apparently they did notice this, but as they had not marked the ball as “ready to play” this did not warrant a penalty. More outrageously, they did not call Anquan Boldin for a headbutt, despite calling Carolina’s Captain Munnerlyn4 for one earlier. And there was also a questionable unnecessary roughness call on the 49ers’ first drive. But then, there was also one on a terrific Dan Skuta sack of Cam Newton. And they let four extra seconds run off the clock on Vernon Davis’ end-zone-catch-eventually-ruled-touchdown, which would have robbed the 49ers of a final chance at a touchdown if the call had gone the other way, so… maybe this is not the big conspiracy theory Panthers fans have been calling it? 
  4. Inception footnotes! Captain Munnerlyn is his given name. He is not one of the Panthers’ captains. 

Here are the current odds for each of the four remaining teams to win the Super Bowl (lines from Sportsbook.com), along with Football Outsiders estimate of their chances. With Carolina out, New England leads the way with the most potential value.

Team American Odds Odds To One Break Even FO Chance Expected Payout Rank
NE 480 4.8 17.24% 22.40% 5.16% 1
SEA 190 1.9 34.48% 34.80% 0.32% 2
DEN 200 2 33.33% 24.70% -8.63% 3
SF 260 2.6 27.78% 18.10% -9.68% 4

The New England figures should clearly be discounted, because they have just had so, so, so many injuries, no Rob Gronkowski, no defensive front seven, no perpetually healthy wide receivers or running backs, and yet… they only need to win two more games. Stranger things have happened. And with Denver’s best defensive player, Von Miller, out for the season, and cornerback Chris Harris, Pro Football Focus‘ ninth-best corner (of 110, with a 10.9 grade), now out for the season, that first game might not be too crazy? Look at the conference championship odds:

Team American Odds Odds To One Break Even FO Chance Expected Payout Rank
NE 175 1.75 36.36% 46.00% 9.64% 1
SEA 57.14 0.5714 63.64% 62.80% -0.84% 2
SF 155 1.55 39.22% 37.20% -2.02% 3
DEN 48.78 0.4878 67.21% 54.00% -13.21% 4

Look at New England! Football Outsiders estimates that betting them straight up this weekend will win nearly 10 percent more than it must to break even. Their calculations (using weighted DVOA) may not be 100 percent accurate, especially with regard to injuries, but given that Denver’s injuries are more recent, their predictions could quite possibly be overstating Denver’s chances. Throwing a little money at the New England money line might not be the craziest of ideas.

Don’t reseed the NFL playoffs.

Every year people make the case for reseeding the playoffs, and every year they are wrong, and way off base. The NFL playoffs are competitive, entertaining, and reasonably fair; they should not be reseeded or changed.

1. Finding the Best Team in Football

If the playoffs are a true test to find the best team in football, then the league’s owners owe it to their fans and everyone involved with the league to structure the playoffs properly, once and for all.

The playoffs are not a true test to find the best team in football, and never have been. If people wanted such a test, the league might owe a restructuring to the fans–but people don’t.

*NOTE: Recently there have been a number of articles about reseeding the NFL playoffs. Dan Levy wrote a particularly thorough one, “NFL Reality Check: Let’s Say It Again This Year–Playoffs Need to Be Reseeded“, on Bleacher Report. In this post I rebut Levy point-by-point, akin to his format and style. All quotes are Levy’s and from that article, unless otherwise noted. I encourage reading his piece first.

A true test to find the best would be a league-wide double round-robin, with each team playing every other time twice, once at home and once on the road.1 That is unfeasible, and worse, it would be boring. There is a trade-off here, between entertainment and objective rankings, and the league has a fine balance already.

2. NFL Owners Want Easily Acquired Home Playoff Games

Home games in the playoffs are an enormous cash cow, so why would the owners be willing to risk that, even if it gives more deserving teams a better chance to win a title?

Of the 12 teams that make the NFL playoffs each year, eight are division winners; two-thirds of the teams in the postseason qualify by winning their division.

Of course the owners want to give themselves a better chance to get that home game, and guaranteeing at least one home game to each division winner is the best way to do that. It’s not about the fans at all. It’s about the money.

This “analysis” is so bad, it is difficult impossible to read without getting angry. Where to start?

A team does not have a shot at all eight division-winner spots. (Duh.) A team can only win its division. But every team does have a shot at either of the two wildcards in its conference. “…two-thirds of the teams in the postseason qualify by winning their division.” THAT DOESN’T F@#$ING MATTER. Two-thirds of the ways to get into the playoffs for a single team (or owner) involve having a better record than as many teams in the same conference as possible.2

Perhaps what Levy was going for is that three-thirds–100 percent–of all first and second round playoff games are hosted by division winners.3 A team competes against three teams for a division title, but twelve for a wildcard spot.4 But in Week 17 this season, there were only four AFC teams alive for the final wildcard spot (Baltimore, Miami, Pittsburgh, and San Diego) and effectively only three NFC teams alive for the final two wildcard spots.5 The number of competitors for the spots does not make a division title easier to obtain than a wildcard.

There would be no reason for an owner to vote for the teams with the best record to get home games in the playoffs, except, you know, because it would actually reward the best teams in the regular season. That would be for the fans.

Yeah, yeah, because such persecuted “best teams in the regular season” don’t have owners, they have… wait, no, they do have owners! And driven by the want of a home playoff game, they would fight to change the system, right? Since divisional realignment in 2002, the Patriots have won the AFC East 10 times (of a possible 12), the Colts have won the AFC South eight times, and the Packers have won the NFC North six times. In that same time both San Diego and Seattle won their respective divisions four times in a row. If their opponents were trying to rig the system for home playoff games, how come it wasn’t working?

It’s all nonsense. Home playoff games are zero-sum. If an owner found a way to get his team more, that would mean less for the other owners. If it’s easier for some teams to get a home playoff game, it’s harder for others.

Increasing the number of playoff games, however, would presumably grow profits. Major League Baseball just added a wild card team in each league, and the NFL might do the same for each conference. I do agree with Levy on one point, at least: it’s all about the money. (Although that shouldn’t be news to anyone.)

3. Teams with Better Records Are Punished Unfairly

The 2013 Saints finished 11-5 and must travel to the Philadelphia Eagles to open the playoffs in the NFC. Why? Because the NFL rules ostensibly reward Philadelphia for the existence of the Carolina Panthers.

The 12-4 San Francisco 49ers have to inexplicably travel to the 8-7-1 Green Bay Packers on Sunday for their first home playoff game. Why? Because the Seahawks are really good and played just a little better than the Niners this season.

Despite winning more games than their first-round opponents, New Orleans and San Francisco will get penalized in the playoffs because another team in their respective–read: tougher–divisions had a slightly better record.

One, you can’t have it both ways. Either a team’s record is more important than home field advantage, so the “punishment” of playing on the road is trivial, or home field advantage must be given utmost consideration. Since realignment in 2002, wildcard teams have won three of eleven Super Bowls, suggesting it’s possible to overcome playing on the road.

Two, if the NFL reseeded so that the “best” teams6 always hosted playoff games, why shouldn’t all the best teams get into the playoffs, regardless of which division they play in? How about regardless of which conference they play in?

Now, if we’re already in agreement to reseed the conferences, a case can be made to reseed every team, combining the AFC and NFC teams into one big postseason tournament based on overall record. Even giving a slot to each division winner, the Cardinals would be in as a wild-card team if we did that.

There is, however, great importance to keeping the tradition of AFC versus NFC intact for the Super Bowl, so the Cardinals were justifiably the odd team out in the NFC this season.

But is that really fair? With teams playing an imbalanced schedule, is the way the league picks wild-card teams fair and balanced enough?

So there is some value in continuing tradition! It isn’t just about the best teams (duh). But it is about fairness. It all hinges on what you think is fair enough. Again, a double round-robin would be fair, but no one wants that. Is the current system fair? Within a division, 14 of each team’s 16 games are in-common, although with different home-road splits. Within a conference, there is a one in three chance that teams from different divisions have six of their thirteen opponents in-common. That is fair enough.7

But you, or Levy, think it isn’t, and want the teams reseeded by record, because the 8-7-1 Packers (and other such teams) making the playoffs, and especially hosting a playoff game, isn’t fair, because they’re bad.8 The 49ers shouldn’t have had to go on the road to beat them. It’s an unfair punishment.

Reseeding by record within the conference, this season the 49ers would have played the Arizona Cardinals, who finished… 10-6. Seemingly better than 8-7-1, right? Such a system might actually punish teams in the 49ers position, who get to play an alleged bad team in the first round. I guess the 49ers would have gotten the Cardinals at home, though. Wait, which matters more, playing at home or having a better record? Oh, right, it’s inconsistent. You could find similar scenarios by reseeding the whole league by record, or reseeding but keeping the division winners in regardless, whatever.

And that’s the point: all of these different systems are really similar anyway! A case can always be made for a team playing an opponent they “shouldn’t have to”, in a venue they “shouldn’t have to”. “It isn’t fair.” “It’s all about the money.” “It doesn’t produce the very best team.”

4. Get Over It

Fairness matters, definitely. It’s “the right thing”, and it also produces a higher level of competition in the postseason. No one wants to watch the Houston Texans any more this year than one already had to. Fans want to be entertained by close games and upsets, but they also want a baseline level of fairness.

That’s fine, that’s good… we already have it! The NFL doesn’t draw playoff teams out of a hat.9 A balanced system is already in place. The very best teams (through sixteen games) always make the playoffs in the current system, and usually end up with at least one home game. Good, not elite teams almost always make the playoffs. Rewarding the division winners not only produces some postseason excitement (a la the 2010 Seahawks), it also provides in-season excitement, with most of the 96 intra-division games each season meaning quite a bit.

Leave the NFL playoffs alone. “Deserving” teams can win on the road if they want to win the Super Bowl (as the Saints, Chargers, 49ers, and very nearly the Chiefs did last weekend). The division format is geographically logical, rooted in tradition, reasonably fair, and most importantly, fun! Quit whining.

Though not quite relevant enough to work its way in this piece, I wanted to note that in his article, Levy mentioned that “The NFC West was 42-22 overall this season, while the NFC North was 28-34-2. Looking at just non-division games, the NFC West was 30-10 against other divisions, while the putrid NFC North was 17-23 outside of its division.” This is hilarious! If it’s an intra-division game, the division record can’t net one way or the other; one team’s win is the other’s loss. Note that he subtracted the same number of wins and losses from each division, because a division is guaranteed to go .500 against itself! Thanks for the statistical insight!

  1. And if you really wanted a true test, the ranking criteria wouldn’t be on the resulting win-loss-tie records, but a metric more indicative of talent and less subject to randomness, such as Pythagorean win-loss-tie record, or DVOA. Is finding the best team still your number one priority? 
  2. If you’re still having trouble: the 49ers can make the playoffs by winning the NFC West division (1), having the best non-division-winner record (2), or having the second-best non-division-winner record (3). Routes two and three to the playoffs have nothing to do with the 49ers winning their division. 
  3. This is not true in the conference championship round if both wildcards win their first two playoff games, in which case the five seed would host the six seed. A precursory search indicates that this has never happened. 
  4. 16 teams in each conference, minus the four division winners equals twelve teams potentially chasing the wildcard. 
  5. Two of the following–Arizona, Carolina, New Orleans, San Francisco, and Seattle–could have ended up with a wildcard. But two of them were guaranteed to win their division (either Carolina/New Orleans and San Francisco/Seattle), effectively leaving three teams fighting for two wildcards. 
  6. Teams with better records are not always better. There is an element of luck involved in wins and losses. 
  7. See? I can say it too! Notice, I provided at least a little bit of non-anecdotal evidence before doing so. Go me! 
  8. The whole Aaron Rodgers thing makes this a little weird, because obviously with him they are way better than 8-7-1. Just assume the Packers are bad or imagine an actually bad 8-7-1 team making the playoffs, or remember the 7-9 NFC West champion 2010 Seahawks, or whatever. 
  9. Yeah, that’s the other end of the excitement-fairness spectrum, the opposite of a double round-robin, and surprise surprise, no one wants that either. 
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