March 22, 2003
In The Playoffs, The Fewer The Better
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
Face it, this is first time I've disagreed with Bob Kraft since this cockamamie idea of his to move the Patriots to Hartford.
Five AFC teams finished 9-7 in 2002. Two of those teams made the playoffs. Three of those teams didn't. One of those three teams now wants more teams in the playoffs. Hmmm. Shocked?
Kraft's solution is to add more playoff teams. Since there are now 32 teams in the NFL, it stands to reason that more teams are needed in the postseason to make it both fair and meaningful. More teams mean more potential playoff-calibre entries who would be wronged beyond belief if they were not allowed to play in the Vince tournament.
Kraft is not alone in his quest. Lamar Hunt of Kansas City is also pushing for extra playoff teams. These two estimable NFL owners have gotten this idea on the agenda for the annual meeting of owners in Phoenix. Modification of the NFL overtime policy is getting top billing, but this playoff idea will get some discussion in due time.
The proposal calls for 14 teams to make the playoffs instead of the current 12. The top seed from each conference would get a first-round bye, and each conference would then have three playoff games involving the six remaining teams. The top seed would then host the lowest seeded survivor of those other six teams.
While this is a nice proposal, as well as a well-reasoned idea, the NFL would be best served by resisting the seductive impulse to expand its playoff lineup and keep things the way they are. The thought of more playoff money is always understandable, but the last thing the NFL needs to do is to turn itself into the NHL or the NBA.
Simply stated, both of those leagues have putrid playoff systems which literally demean the regular season. In both cases, the playoffs have rendered the regular seasons to irrelevant status. Why bother to get excited over the regular season in the NHL when your team has such a terrific chance to make the playoffs just by showing up?
This is why baseball has shown such resilience over the years despite all the bad rap garnered by Donald Fehr, Bud Selig and a horde of greedy, arrogant players. Hate the current state of baseball all you want, but the dearth of playoff entrants in baseball make for incredibly exciting and meaningful LCS and World Series. Red Sox games are incredibly riveting if they are involved in a pennant race. You cannot say the same for the Bruins and Celtics even if they happen to have the league's best record at the time.
For the moment, the NFL enjoys the same regular season intensity as baseball. Literally every one of the 16 games is a big game. Adding more playoff teams gradually diminishes the importance of the regular season. Why should fans of 8-8 or 9-7 teams worry about an early season losing streak if their team needs to merely break even to make the playoffs?
A by-product of adding more teams now is the door opening for wanting to add more and more teams in the future. Little by little, owners who want to sweeten the playoff kitty will want to bump up the playoff contingent every couple of years or so. The reasoning will be along the lines of "Hey, we went from 12 to 14 and things were okay…so, what's the harm with only two more?"
Naturally, Kraft isn't thinking along these lines. All he can do is stare at his Vince and think, "Damn, if only there were more playoff teams, our guys would have been back in the tournament this year to defend this thing!" Kraft perhaps feels jobbed that he lost the division to a 9-7 team (Jets) and lost the final playoff spot to another 9-7 team (Cleveland).
And this is why you should feel happy that Bill Belichick runs the football operation and not Kraft. Belichick knows why the Patriots didn't make the playoffs, and it's not because invitations weren't extended to all 9-7 teams.
Kraft needs to be concerned with making the Patriots better, and not making it easier for them to stay mediocre and make the playoffs anyway. Of course, Kraft really should not have anything to do with making the team better other than giving Belichick the resources to sign the players he needs to sign, and providing a world class environment for he and his players and staff to apply their craft happily.
And Kraft has succeeded on both counts. The Patriots need to try and get back into the double-digit win column. Even if the league did allow them to sneak into the playoffs with a record as bad as 8-8, how far would they go in the playoffs? It's not enough to just make the playoffs, but rather to go deep and ultimately play for the whole dadblasted thing.
Kraft needs to can this extra playoff team malarkey and just pray that his Patriots win the division in '03 with a high seed. Belichick has already helped out towards that goal with the signings of Roosevelt Colvin, Rodney Harrison and Tyrone Poole. Next month's draft will be much more important to the Patriots than striving to be merely the number seven team in the conference.
And the NFL needs to preserve the sanctity of the regular season, and not do something stupid like diluting the playoff pool with teams that have no business playing for football's prized chalice.
If you need further proof of how crummy it is to have playoff teams who have no business being playoff teams, take a look at March Madness. The NCAA has taken this tournament to such new lows to the extent that they now have a "play-in game" to crown and extol the 64th best team in the tournament. If this is how you envision the NFL in the future, you probably plan your entire life around the NIT.
Keep things where they are. Then when the Patriots make the playoffs, it's really something to squawk about.
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