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Leave the NFL Playoffs Alone

There's a great line from one of the hundreds of documentaries about the making of "Jaws." After the movie had be screened for test audiences and they loved it, Steven Spielberg kept tinkering with the final edit. He removed scenes. He shot more, including the class jump scare when Ben Gardner's head pops out of the hole in his boat, which Spielberg filmed in his own swimming pool. He made so many changes that at one point, one of the executive producers said to him, "Steven, if you keep changing this movie, you're going to improve it into a failure." 

I thought of this immediately when news of the NFL changing its playoff format came out.

The NFL, for all the faults of its corrupt, demonic goblin commissioner and a generation of privileged, simpleton team owners whose bold, business savvy, visionary fathers only let loose with one nut when they made them, has nevertheless created perfection. Pretty much by accident. And rather than appreciate that either by divine providence or pure, dumb luck how good they have it, they're going to improve this into failure.

For the last 18 seasons, the way the league has been set up and the playoff format they've used have reflected an ecosystem perfectly in balance. This goes back to the 2002 season, when the Houston Texans were brought into the league, giving us 32 teams, in eight geographic divisions of four teams each. Playing 16 games over 17 weeks. (Note that for three seasons before that, after the new Cleveland Browns were created, there was an odd number of teams. Making it necessary for at least one to have a bye every week of the schedule, including Week 1 and Week 17. For instance, the 2001 Patriots were scheduled to have their bye at the end of the regular season, which would've given them two weeks off before the Snow Bowl game if 9/11 hadn't canceled a week of games.) And the playoffs? In each conference, two teams get a bye. Two teams get home games. Two teams get road games. We get four games on Wild Card weekend. Four games in the Divisional round. Two conference championships. It's a universe that exists in Euclidean harmony and everything makes sense. A miracle, given the degree of nitwittery among the people running things.

So yes. By all means, fix it. Revenues are up. TV ratings are up. Franchise values are through the roof. So why not water it down in the name of giving us extra playoff games? 

I get that plenty of people will think this is a great thing. Because enough is never enough. More is always better. That's one extra Wild Card game to bet on, etc. I totally understand where they're coming from. And it's not as if those of us who thought they should leave well enough alone won't be watching. Of course we will.

But this isn't about adding more games because they're necessary. This isn't about some deserving teams getting shut out of the postseason unfairly because not enough teams qualify so let's correct the injustice. It's about taking non-playoff caliber teams and putting them in the playoffs to get an extra, unnecessary game. Consider that under this system, the Steelers would've made it to the postseason each of the last two years. When they finished 9-6-1 and 8-8, respectively. It's going to mean some 14-2 team won't get a bye and will need three wins to get to the Super Bowl after losing the 1-seed on the fourth tiebreaker. 

This isn't an improvement. This isn't about satisfying the customers. It's watering down the drinks to increase profits. It's cutting fine quality, street-ready cocaine with baby powder formula. I don't blame the players one bit for signing on because they're not only getting an extra playoff check, they're getting a 1% bump in their share of revenue. Anyone with an average career of 3.5 years who's one torn Achilles away from being told to pack his stuff and get out would do the same thing. This is all on the commissioner and the owners who can't be satisfied with lucking into a perfect system that's making them billions without changing a thing. 

And if you think it ends here - that they're not going to immediately declare this new format a huge success and add yet another team, so half the NFL gets into the playoffs - you're living in a fantasy land. The NBA-ificiation of pro football continues.