The League

Dave Goldberg
Sports Reporter

Dave Goldberg

Covered the NFL for the AP for 25 years and now is a senior NFL writer for Fanhouse.com

Emphasis on division

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Since the middle of October, we've had time to digest the fact that the NFC West was awful and that it was likely it would produce a sub-.500 champion that would actually host a much better team in the playoffs and leave out more deserving teams.

So we've had a two and a half months to bet outraged. Now that it's happened and Seattle, 7-9, is playing host to defending NFL champion New Orleans, 11-5, the outrage has abated, probably with help from the oddsmakers, who have made the Saints a 10 1/2 point favorite, unprecedented (as far as we know) for a road team in the playoffs.

Besides, the only thing new about it is that the Seahawks are the first team under .500 to make the playoffs but certainly not the first that's mediocre or worse. "I don't have any complaints with the system,'' said Tom Coughlin, whose Giants were 10-6, three games better than the Seahawks and won 41-7 in Seattle on Nov. 7. "From a standpoint of being selfish right now, yeah, we'd like to be playing, sure. But one year we made it at 8-8 when we probably shouldn't have.''

Just as unfair as this year?

How about 2008 when the Patriots, with Tom Brady out after going down with a knee injury in the first half of the first game, finished 11-5 and missed the postseason because San Diego won the AFC West at 8-8 and New England lost a tiebreaker with Miami for the title in the East.

Worse?

In 1985, my second season covering the NFL, the Cleveland Browns became the first .500 team to make the playoffs when they won what was then the AFC Central at 8-8. Only five teams made the playoffs from each conference then and Dan Reeves, whose Denver Broncos went 11-5 and missed out, was publicly outraged as was his young quarterbacks coach, a guy named Mike Shanahan.

But the Browns acquitted themselves well, losing 24-21 in Miami to the Dolphins, who were the defending AFC champions and had finished 12-4. Cleveland actually led 14-3 at the half, making me as nervous as most Dolphins fans when I heard the score -- I'd planned on spending a good portion of my January in Miami, not in Cleveland. (As it turned out, I did go to Florida, where it rained for about a week.)

Bottom line?

The NFL is set up for division play. Win your division and you make the playoffs.

The Seahawks did.

The Giants, who finished 10-6, didn't because they allowed Philadelphia to score 28 points in the final eight minutes, blowing a 31-10 lead.

Tampa Bay, also 10-6, didn't win its division either. But it improved by seven games from 3-13 a year ago and has a young team that should have a bright future. If I was a Bucs fan, I'd be satisfied.

If the oddsmakers are right, and they usually are, the Seahawks will be dispensed with quickly. I don't think either the Giants or Bucs would have made the Super Bowl if they'd gotten in (although I thought that about the Giants three years ago and they won it.)

The alternative. One that's been proposed would be awful: 16 teams in two conferences with the top six in each getting to the playoffs? What would happen to the Redskins rivalries with New York, Philly and Dallas, which was kept in the "East'' when the league realigned in a more geographically correct manner in 2002?

Leave it the way it is.

And if Seattle wins the Super Bowl?

They'll be talking about it for a century.

By Dave Goldberg  |  January 5, 2011; 7:40 AM ET  | Category:  Dave Goldberg , NFC , Playoffs , Seattle Seahawks Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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If it's cold and rainy, the Seahawks could win against the indoor playing Saints.

Posted by: charley42 | January 5, 2011 2:51 PM

The Vegas oddsmakers, the NFL sports columnists of the 3 major newspapers I read, the major sports web portals, none of these think the Seahawks have a chance in 100 of beating the Saints.
Thus the media has set the stage for the greatest NFL upset of the season, and perhaps post season. Think of the sentiment for a Seahawks victory over the Falcons, should that game come about? A Saints-Falcons rematch, and the Falcons probably win. A Seahawks-Falcons game and, who knows?
The sad thing is that the Seahawks need some kind of change in their previous pass defense strategy.

Posted by: daitoclass | January 6, 2011 11:58 PM

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