Last month, we looked at what an 8-team NFL playoff selected by committee using the same principles used to fill the College Football Playoff would look like. Those results:
- Dallas Cowboys vs. 8. Atlanta Falcons
- Oakland Raiders vs. 7. Detroit Lions
- New England Patriots vs. 6. Denver Broncos
- Seattle Seahawks vs. 5. Kansas City Chiefs
With the NFL regular season now complete, let’s revisit. In short, things are drastically different.
The most important stat for the college football committee is the most basic, win-loss record.
1. New England Patriots 14-2
2. Dallas Cowboys 13-3
T3. Kansas City Chiefs 12-4
T3. Oakland Raiders 12-4
T5. Atlanta Falcons 11-5
T5. Pittsburgh Steelers 11-5
T5. New York Giants 11-5
8. Seattle Seahawks 10-5-1
T9. Green Bay Packers 10-6
T9. Miami Dolphins 10-6
T11. Houston Texans 9-7
T11. Detroit Lions 9-7
The first two seeds are obvious, with the Patriots at No. 1 and Cowboys at No. 2. The Chiefs have the clear edge over the Raiders for No. 3 by virtue of winning both head-to-head matchups and the division. More on Oakland in a bit.
The next thing to look at as things get a bit murkier is strength of victory.
Oakland (85) and the Giants (80) have higher SOV than division winners Atlanta (79.5) and Pittsburgh (74.5). Through three years, the College Football Playoff selection committee has picked just one team (Ohio State this year) that failed to win its conference, suggesting that the gulf in talent and resume must be significant in order to overlook this negative.
It’s difficult to believe a wild-card team would be rewarded with homefield advantage in this hypothetical 8-team scenario. The Falcons have played a slightly more difficult schedule than the Steelers and have four wins over .500-plus teams. It may not be fair to knock Pittsburgh for a close game in overtime in the season finale against Cleveland with backups, but it happened. The Falcons get the No. 4 spot and a home game against the No. 5 Steelers.
Despite a 12-4 record and healthy SOV, the Raiders’ quarterback situation would be considered. There is some precedent in how the CFB committee treats a new, third-string QB. Ohio State jumped up to the No. 4 spot in 2014 after Cardale Jones led the Buckeyes to a 59-0 shellacking of Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game. Connor Cook was not quite as impressive in his fill-in duty last Sunday.
An NFL committee would have a difficult time justifying that this current Oakland squad is anywhere close, quality-wise, to New York, Seattle or Green Bay. Of those three, the Giants have the best record and have a vastly better SOV than both the Packers (71.5) and Seahawks (70). New York’s two victories over Dallas would be impressive enough to outweigh the lack of division crown and head-to-head loss to Green Bay. The Giants get the No. 6 spot.
The final two division winners, Seattle and Green Bay, played a few weeks ago. The Packers wiped the floor with the Seahawks, 38-10. Aaron Rodgers’ gang has played a significantly harder schedule than Russell Wilson’s group. Seattle, on the other hand, beat New England on the road and has a higher winning percentage. We’ll give Green Bay the slight advantage and No. 7 spot.
And here, quite frankly is where this make-believe committee would argue for hours upon hours with great tension. Could a 12-4 Raiders team really be left out of the field? There is no doubt that the Seahawks are the vastly superior team. There is no doubt Oakland is the more deserving team based on overall body of work.
Sending one team on vacation here is an enviable task. Even though, I would personally give the Raiders the eighth and final spot, it’s my belief a committee would take the path of least resistance and give it to Seattle. Such a decision would make for a better product, but would perhaps be unjust.
An eight-team playoff, then, would look like this:
- New England Patriots vs. 8. Seattle Seahawks
- Dallas Cowboys vs. 7. Green Bay Packers
- Kansas City Chiefs vs. 6. New York Giants
- Atlanta Falcons vs. 5. Pittsburgh Steelers
Who says no (besides the league, television networks and fans of the other four current playoff teams)?