The Haphazard Blog

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Keeping NFL Teams Playing Hard at the End of the Season

by on Jan.17, 2010, under Football, Sports

Roger Goodell recently said the following according to ProFootballTalk:

Honestly, we don’t have a solution for it. We’ve had a lot of suggestions. A lot of people have talked about things from making scheduling changes to re-seeding the playoffs. A couple people have suggested the idea of potentially modifying the draft in certain ways. But none of these have been studied in depth.

This is in response to the reaction to the Indianapolis Colts to rest their players at a time when their team was 14-0 and had a real shot at going 16-0. The fans at the game were very upset. The Colts have a long history of resting their players late in the season once they have clinched home field advantage for the playoffs. The outcry was much larger this season because they were undefeated and then compounded by their actions afterward. Ranging from bogus excuses for why they played hard the week before (debunked by ProFootballTalk) to then risking injury to their players to establish arbitrary individual statistical milestones.

The NFL tossed out some ideas that Goodell mentioned. Giving out draft picks to teams that continue to play hard was the first one I heard. This one didn’t make much sense to me since they’d be rewarding teams that are heading to the playoffs. If the idea is parity, and they give the teams that did poorly better draft positions, it would be counteractive to reward good teams with additional draft picks, regardless of where they are in the order.

Another idea, adjusting the schedule so the last 3 games are division games won’t help much either. The weight the division has is already diminished when only 6 out of 16 games are division games. Using this year as an example, the Colts were uncatchable with 3 games left. It didn’t matter what those 3 games were.

I think the solution lies in re-seeding. The basis of teams resting is that they have established either the top seed in the playoffs or that whatever they do, their seed in the playoffs is set. They have to make a change that strikes at the reason for resting.

My suggestion is to continue to determine the playoff teams as they are now (division winners plus two wild card teams). Then add an emphasis to a team’s late season performance. I’m throwing out doubling the weight of the last 4 games of the season. In this scenario, this is what would’ve happened this season:

2009 NFL Playoffs Reseeded

The Colts and San Diego Chargers end up flipping seeds and the Cincinnati Bengals drop from the fourth to sixth seed in AFC. For the NFC, the top 3 seeds remain the same and the Arizona Cardinals drop from the fourth to sixth seed. At first glance, it doesn’t seem to solve many problems. Looking at the NFC, 5 teams ended up with the same weighted record. The New Orleans Saints rested their starters in the final weekend and lost. The Philadelphia Eagles would’ve had a shot at the #1 seed with a win. The Colts would’ve locked up the #1 seed with one more win and possibly been sitting at 15-0. Do they go for 16-0 then or lay down? I’d like to know how many teams would throw away a chance at going undefeated. As far as I know, this is the first time in NFL history that a team willingly lost the first game of their season.

So by weighting the last 4 games of the season, it rewards teams for playing well into the playoffs. The reseeding also eliminates a bad team in a bad division from getting a home playoff game. Their reward is a ticket to the playoffs. Performance on field gets you home field. I ran the “numbers” for the 2005 through 2008 seasons as well and you can see the end result in the gallery at the end of the post. Some quick (mostly New England Patriots-centric) observations (these all exclude the effect of how teams would’ve played had they known records would be weighted, so it assumes each team tried their best to win the game):

  • In 2008, the Colts would’ve jumped from a wild card to the first seed. They started out slow but finished up on a long streak. Nice reward.
  • In 2007, the Patriots still lock-up the #1 seed early, but the NFC field is shaken up. Do the New York Giants still make it to the Super Bowl? What would’ve been…
  • In 2006, the AFC Championship game could’ve been the Colts at the Patriots instead of the other way around.
  • In 2005, the seeding in the AFC is changed so the wild card teams host the division winners, but the games stay the same. If the results also stay the same, then the Patriots avoids the Denver Broncos (the team/coach (Shanahan) have had Bill Belichick’s number) and play the Colts instead. The Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Broncos that year and if the Patriots beat the Colts, they play at the Steelers in the AFC championship. I like their chances. And yes Steelers fans, this is why the Patriots are the team of the decade. Three Super Bowls to 2 and the Patriots were 2-0 against the Steelers in the playoffs. Both games were the AFC Championship in Pittsburgh. The Steelers never had to beat the Patriots to win a Championship.
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