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Thursday, December 25, 2008


From the sports desk

Yahoo! columnist Jason Cole has done the math and figured out 11 is greater than 8. And on the basis of that insight, he's decided that the NFL playoff system is unfair. And he finds that a member of the New England Patriots -- a team could miss out on the postseason at 11-5 while potentially 8-8 San Diego and potentially 8-8 Arizona go as Division Champions -- agrees. This is foolishness. If the Patriots were so worried about going to the postseason, they should have beaten the Jets at home a couple of weeks ago.

The NFL divisional races are as fair as they've ever been, a much better way of awarding playoff spots than anything else. This has the effect of skewing the wildcard races, but that's preferable to the alternative. The NFL regular season is actually eight different competitions with a wildcard thrown in for fun and profit. Cole's math is pretty elementary, and it breaks down very quickly. Here's the more advanced argument: Since going to four divisions, an NFL team plays 13 different opponents. It plays every team in its division twice, every team in another division of its conference once and every team in a division from the other conference once. There are only two non-common opponents. Comparing New England's season to Miami's or the Jets' is a fairly simple proposition, they played the same teams. Comparing the Patriots season to Indianpolis or Baltimore requires more questions. It's ultimately imperfect. Wildcards are good for making up numbers in the postseason. The rules are set down beforehand, with the tiebreakers in place. But of course its not fair. If you can't guarantee yourself a spot then you have to live with the consequences.

And as a service to Jason Cole, here's the actual unfairness argument. The NFC North (Detroit) played the NFC and AFC South this year. And just as in the auto industry, the South's plunder of Detroit has proven incredibly valuable. The NFC South could end up with both wildcard teams. Meanwhile, Indianpolis of the AFC South has clinched a wildcard. It's a structural unfairness, which means winning the division is incredibly valuable.

3 Comment(s):

  •   Posted by Blogger BrooklynDodger at December 26, 2008 8:00 AM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • Small divisions increase the liklihood of disparate results, that is, a division leader with a worse record, even a losing record, compared to a follower in another division.

    For the best matchups, maybe only the last half or the last third of the season should be considered - look at last year. The Patriots were much less dominant than at the beginning. Of course, the Giants only made it in by being strong in the first third, pathetic in the second, and then squeeking through on defense the rest of the way.

  •   Posted by Blogger Rich at December 29, 2008 1:57 PM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • Let's move to 162 game season! Oh, wait, people will still say that is unfair, too. Crowning a champion or even getting into the playoffs isn't about fairness, it's about entertainment value.

  •   Posted by Blogger Mike at December 30, 2008 5:04 AM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • Who says the 162-game season is unfair? Picking a wildcard with an unbalanced schedule isn't particularly fair, but within divisions everyone basically plays the same schedule.

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