Monday, January 10, 2011

It Could've Been Worse, Saints and Giants Fans

by James Sinclair

All the talk about the fairness, or lack thereof, of Seattle hosting a first-round game after a 7-9 season, while New York and Tampa Bay went 10-6 and missed the playoffs, made me wonder what would be the most "unfair" scenario possible, in terms of both the records of the home and away teams in a round one matchup, and the record of the best team that doesn't make the playoffs. So here goes. Obviously, highly improbable (but not impossible) assumptions abound.

First of all, it's fairly intuitive that the worst possible record for a division winner (and, by extension, any playoff team) is 3-13, which would happen if and only if all four teams go 3-3 within the division and 0-10 against everyone else. So let's say the Seahawks, Rams, Cardinals, and 49ers have four identically-awful 3-13 seasons. On the last tiebreaker, a complex series of coin tosses, Seattle wins the division.

As for the rest of the NFC, assume six teams—the Eagles, Giants, Bears, Packers, Falcons, and Saints—go 5-1 in their respective divisions, with each same-division pair splitting their two games. The South was matched up against the West in their intra-conference round robin this year, so they go 4-0 across the board. Meanwhile, the Eagles and Giants go 3-1 against the North, with the Eagles losing to the Bears and the Giants losing to the Packers. Similarly, the Bears and Packers go 3-1 against the East, losing to the Giants and Eagles, respectively. All six go 4-0 against the AFC.

All that's left are the games against a team from each of the remaining two divisions. The pursuit of the most extreme scenario possible hits a snag at this point, because the Falcons had games against the Eagles and Packers. If, however, the Falcons and Buccaneers switched schedules, the top teams would have the following opponents:

Philadelphia: Tampa Bay, San Francisco
NY Giants: Carolina, Seattle
Chicago: Carolina, Seattle
Green Bay: Tampa Bay, San Francisco
Atlanta: Washington, Detroit
New Orleans: Dallas, Minnesota

(Yeah, yeah, it would work without having to change the schedule if I put the Bucs—not the Falcons—in the top six, but I wanted to wind up with the same seeding as in this year's actual playoffs. Also, I'm a Falcons fan, so there.)

Say all six win both games. That puts Atlanta and New Orleans at 15-1, having lost only to each other. Atlanta wins the South and the #1 seed on, I don't know, strength of schedule, and New Orleans drops to #5. The Eagles, Giants, Bears, and Packers are all 14-2, each having gone 2-2 against the other three. The Bears and Eagles win their divisions on, I don't know, point differential, and the Bears, having beaten the Eagles in the regular season, win the #2 seed. Since the Packers beat the Giants in the regular season, Green Bay takes the last wild card spot.

After all that, the playoffs open a week later with the 3-13 Seahawks hosting the 15-1 Saints, while the 14-2 Giants watch from home.

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