With ramblings of NFL owners preparing to discuss adding an additional wildcard playoff team, the league has just inched even closer to handing out trophies for showing up. I’ve read numerous articles and blog posts bemoaning the league’s rewarding of mediocrity and they are, for the most part spot on. I contend however, that the idea of rewarding mediocrity is the least of what would be problematic should the league allow more playoff teams.
For starters, adding additional wildcard teams would only escalate the criticism of perennial media whipping boys like Tony Romo and teams with little or no recent playoff success like his Dallas Cowboys and Jacksonville Jaguars. Wouldn’t it be easier then for the Cowboys to make the playoffs with an expanded field? Of course it would, but sneaking in at 8-8 is only going to get that .500 team exposed in the playoffs. Losing in the wildcard or divisional rounds would only provide more ammunition for detractors, cynics and over-critical critics. Take Marvin Lewis for example, whose eleven year tenure as head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals has yielded zero playoff wins in six appearances; allowing his team to slide in under the closing garage door only to lose in the first round again becomes even more of Lewis’ fault despite the obvious fact that as a potentially extra wildcard team, they simply don’t belong in the playoffs to begin with. Is that fair to Lewis? No. Is it fair to Romo? No. Don’t get me wrong, this is not to say that a spare wildcard team couldn’t back their way in, get hot, and make a run to the conference championship or the Super Bowl, it’s just that something like that is highly unlikely.
I’d like to preface my second reason with the fact that I don’t believe any NFL coach worth his mettle approaches an upcoming season with the goal of winning seven games. Heck, in today’s coaching climate, a couple of seven-win seasons in a row with no signs of improvement will get a coach canned. So, I’m pretty sure that win-or-lose, NFL coaches set out to win every game. By adding an additional wildcard, we face the inevitability of a 7-9 team making the playoffs. How absurd is that?
“You guys lost more than you won but you still get to compete for a title!”
If the thought of 8-8 teams making the playoffs is rewarding mediocrity, then allowing 7-9 teams in can only be likened to Pop Warner. It is as close as professional sports can come to handing out trophies for participation. Sounds harsh, but those are trophies that the Jaguars, Browns and Titans would all gladly accept. Glance across the professional sporting spectrum to see if successful franchises like the Yankees, Celtics, or Red wings hang playoff appearance banners. Then, just envision a Tennessee Titans home opener where they unfurl a brand new playoff appearance banner. Not quite the same is it?
I’ve heard arguments to the contrary using “the cream will always rise to the top” as a slogan. But, if I’m the cream of the crop sitting at 14-2 or 13-3, I’ve risen to the top all season and would consider it a near insult to even have to suit up against a 7-9 team. Simply put, you spend the season beating every team placed in front of you, so why should you have to face a scrub playoff team on your way to a title. You shouldn’t, no team should.
Finally, adding additional wildcard team would eventually render the opening round of the playoffs almost as unwatchable as the Pro Bowl. No matter the pairings, there’s going to be a matchup or two that virtually no one except the fans of those teams is going to care about. ESPN will squeeze every available storyline out of those matchups to make them more interesting, but seriously, watching a 7-9 team battle an 8-8 team is not riveting playoff football no matter what Chris Berman and crew will try to tell us. As a matter of fact, it’s even less intriguing than watching a 6-9 team face off against another 6-9 team in the last game of the regular season with a playoff spot on the line. They might claim that the playoffs start every team back at 0-0 but I’m sorry, teams really are their records, playoffs or not and I certainly don’t care to watch a number one overall seed thrash a sub .500 team that, once again, has no business in the playoffs.
The word playoffs in any sport usually signify the best of the league from which a champion will be crowned. Adding an additional wildcard team, in my opinion, would only cheapen the playoffs. So while the best of the best would still be accounted for, the field would be even more crowded, especially with those sub .500 undesirables.