I don't have the answer yet, but I really do believe that the NFL playoff system needs to be examined with a view to changing it. Let's be honest, the Chicago Bears only stand a chance of making it this year because of their great performances at the beginning of the season.
Since starting the campaign 7-1, they have a 2-5 record and have looked nowhere near as good as they did in the early weeks. And lest we forget that it was the stellar play of their defense that won them many of those games. They were running back picks for touchdowns all over the place and scoring very heavily. Without that sort of production, there's no way they would have won seven games. But the record shows that they did.
Frequently you hear fans and analysts saying things like: 'getting to the playoffs is the most important thing' or 'it doesn't matter how you play in the regular season, it's getting to the playoffs that counts'. And under the current format, that is true. But as I have stated in previous articles, I don't think this is the best way to do things, and often isn't the best way to portray the competitiveness of the NFL.
Without going over old ground, the main problem I have is this - you can have an average team possibly scraping into the playoffs with a 8-8 record, then somehow winning all their playoff games and being crowned the Super Bowl champions. And what's wrong with that? Well, for me, it almost makes the regular season meaningless. Yes, you still have to win a lot of games. I accept that it's not going to be possible for a 3-13 team to make the playoffs, but I think the bar needs to be raised. The criteria needs changing.
It is only because of those seven wins to start the year that the Chicago Bears are left with any hope of making the cut. And they still need to beat Detroit (which should happen), and hope the Packers beat the Vikings (which surely has to happen, right?). But if this combination is achieved, the Bears are in and they have a realistic chance of being named as the best team in the NFL. Because isn't that what winning the Super Bowl means?
So what of the league's feelings about this? Do they really want a team whose offense has been very one dimensional, and whose defense has faltered down the stretch, winning the Super Bowl? What does that say about their league? It basically nullifies any importance the regular season might have had. Yes, you are rewarded with byes if you win your division, meaning that if your regular season record was not great, you have to play one more games during the playoffs. I suppose that is fair, but only to an extent. We have still had teams with poor regular season records win the Super Bowl.
Now, if the Bears finish with a 10-6 record, this will be what I predicted at the beginning of the year, and I would not consider that a particularly poor record. But we all know that it has been a frustrating season as a Bears fan, and I think we would all agree 'scraping' into the playoffs is the best we can hope for.
It's not pratical given the time or intensity of each NFL game, but look at a league like the English Premier soccer league. Every team in the league plays each other twice, and you get three points for a win, one point for a tie and no points for a loss. The team with the most points at the end of the season is crowned the champion. This system is not without it's flaws, but at least the concept of strong or weak divisions doens't come into play. Each team plays every other team twice. Can't get fairer than that, right?
With all this being said, do any of the WCG readers have any suggestions of a different or better way for the NFL league format to be structured? Is the current way things are done the best way? Is it the only way to do things? Could playoffs be abandoned altogther, in favor of something that might possibly be fairer? Let us know what you think.
But for now, and as much as it goes against my better judgement, I do hope the Bears destroy the Lions and get some help from the Packers. And if we manage to win the Super Bowl, I will be delighted. I just wish it could have been under different circumstances.