And with another regular season closed out on the most problematic sport, here are more random thoughts. I’ll keep these below the fold, in case the mere mention of sports makes your eyes glaze over the way mine do when people talk about hipster bands.
- You have to feel sorry for football fans in NYC. Never mind that both teams actually play in Jersey — neither one has made any noise since the Giants’ miraculous Super Bowl run in 2011-12. And even that was fluky, as the Giants had just a 9-7 record and made it to the playoffs only by being a member of the NFL’s special-needs remedial program, the NFC East. Case in point: The NFC (L)East’s division winner this year, Washington, is also in with… a 9-7 record. Same with the Houston Texans actually on the other side — bitter pill for the 10-6 Jets, who lost the game of musical chairs as a result. I don’t care how badly Fitz fell apart yesterday. Gang Green should have made the dance. More on this injustice later.
- And, no hope on the college football front either for Big Apple pigskin fans. The nearest Division I program of any note is… what? Penn State? Do they even have a football program anymore? So, this is just not a town with a football culture. No wonder why NYC remains one of the few baseball-centric sports towns left in the nation.
- Of course, NYC football fans — or sports fans in general — can take solace in the fact that it simply does not get worse than the Mistake on the Lake. The “new” Cleveland Browns have had precisely 2 winning seasons out of 17 since reemerging in 1999, with a sterling 0-1 record in the playoffs. And this year, the Brownstains’ fine playcalling and star quarterbacks have earned them yet another fired coach, a QB more known for his partying than his playing and who is regularly compared to JaMarcus Russell, and the #2 pick in the upcoming draft. Meanwhile, LeBron is once again learning he can’t carry the always-mediocre Cavs all by himself, and the Indians have not improved at all since the movie Major League highlighted their sad-sack ways — clear back in 1989. If you like losing teams and Drew Carey and you love racist cops, Cleveland is the town for you.
- This post would be remiss without mentioning the incompetent bungling of the league’s second-worst owner, Jim Irsay, and his handling of his top-flight head coach, Chuck Pagano. The young coach successfully guided Indy to three playoff spots in a row in his first three years running the sidelines. He has an instinctive knack for one of football’s toughest jobs. Even this season, he was able to drag his heavily injured, disarrayed team to a respectable 8-8 finish almost by force of will alone, despite the loss of his star QB1 to injury. And yet, Irsay seems willing to let him go in a fit of pique. Who does he honestly think he could realistically get who could replace Pagano? Chip Kelly??? This whole episode illustrates one of the primary problems of pro sports: the problem of the owner. This schmuck is only the owner because he was lucky enough to be the son of Bill Irsay, the most hated man in Baltimore. That’s all he did. Unlike his coach, unlike any of his players, unlike his general manager or anyone else in the organization, Jim Irsay did nothing, and by that I mean NOTHING, to deserve his role with the Colts. And yet he is the boss of everyone. Stupid and ridiculous. If I were Pagano, I’d laugh in the prick’s face, take the next flight to New York and offer my services to the Giants.
- The sports media are all hailing the return of Peyton Manning as if he is risen from the cave, but don’t let the hype fool you. On most plays after he got off the bench, he simply handed the ball to the running back. The Broncos’ coaching staff hold no illusions about the future Hall of Famer’s fading abilities. So I like the Chiefs’ chances this year against their traditional foe at Mile High, assuming they can get past JJ Watt’s squad in Houston first.
- And the Chiefs did beat the Texans in Week 1, when KC was still in full chaos mode and over a month away from turning into the well-oiled machine that has gone 10 wins in a row and counting. I expect Houston’s offense to get picked apart by KC’s stellar secondary. After Denver, the Chiefs’ final barrier to the big show is another long-in-the-tooth future-HoFer QB in frosty Foxborough, MA. If I still lived in Vegas, I would be at the sports book right now, plunking a 50-note on KC.
- On the NFC side, I don’t think the Cardinals’ meltdown yesterday proves anything. They were not trying all that hard after it was clear they were toast, especially since they had no shot at the #1 seed and therefore were playing a meaningless game. My money is still on Carson Palmer making the Super Bowl — few QBs deserve a ring more than this consistently underrated veteran. On the other hand, I’m sure Vegas will go with the Panthers and Cam Newton. Either team, unfortunately, will prove more than a match for the upstart Chiefs. Final Super Bowl 50 prediction: Chiefs 16, Cardinals 27. But hey, as a KC fan, I’ll take it. We haven’t had a single playoff win since our QB1 was Joe Montana. And we can’t be too greedy after that Royals season.
(yes, I literally snapchatted the pivotal play of the Series.)
And finally, regarding the strange setup of the NFL’s divisions.
Record doesn’t mean everything. Some teams in the NFL playoffs this year have better records than they deserve, such as the Broncos. Others have worse records than they deserve, such as the Chiefs. Still others have exactly the record they deserve and, in a sane world, would not be in the playoffs, such as the Washington team.
Only 4 teams to a division? Why is that sane? Why are the 9-7 Houston and Washington teams in the playoffs at all, let alone enjoying homefield advantage for their first game? Would any sane football commentator argue that either team is better than the Chiefs, Steelers, or Seahawks, who all must play the entire playoffs on the road? And why must the far superior Jets be forced to watch the playoffs from the couch while the Texans — no offense to Mr. JJ Watts — as an average team that was lucky enough to find itself in the AFC’s weakest 4-team grouping, get a shot at the main prize?
Having no fewer than eight division leaders in a 32-team league inevitably leads to this kind of “survival of the unfittest,” where even forgettable squads like this year’s Hawks and Colts were in the running for a playoff berth until recently. It leads to six of each team’s 16 games per year spent playing the same, usual teams, season after season.
By comparison, MLB has just six divisions with five teams apiece. Merely going from four to five teams per division keeps the competition more heated throughout the season’s end stage, especially considering how MLB playoffs are notoriously Hobbesian on wildcard teams. There hasn’t been an MLB division winner with a record worse than 88-74 since ’09. But it still isn’t entirely fair: let’s not forget the infamous 2005 Padres, who went barely better than .500 (82-80) to win their division and a playoff berth. Imaging being a player on that year’s 88-74 Phillies, forced to sit out October at home.
Such rubbish was unthinkable in baseball until 1994. Before then, the game had just two divisions per conference, four in total, with just 4 playoff contenders each year. Such brutal competition ensured the weak never got to sneak into the postseason. And that’s not even mentioning the game before 1969, when they had no divisions nor playoffs at all.
The reason for leagues being divided into ever-smaller pieces of pie is, of course, sports’ thirst for the increased revenue of playoff games. More division winners = more playoff contenders = more televised playoff games = $$$. If the NFL, MLB, NBA or NHL offices had their way, every last team would make the playoffs every year. But this greed needs to be balanced in terms of fairness, weeding out the weak, and ensuring there’s still a point to the regular season. Leagues do enjoy their regular-season revenue, right?
I’m thinking the NFL would be better served by going to just 2 divisions per conference, 4 in total, with 8 teams apiece. This could still ensure plenty of playoff games, just a bit more fairly.
The two division winners get the #1 and #2 seeds and a guaranteed bye. The other four seeds go to the next four teams with the best records, regardless of division. These seeds #3, #4, #5, #6 all play against each other in the first week, which would then properly be called “Wildcard Week.” The survivors go on to face the division champs; the winners here face off for the conference championship, same as now.
They really should make me NFL Commissioner, you know that? There is no off switch on my genius machine. Ok, that’s it for FC Sports, catch you later!