23 December 2008

The football playoffs are here! There have been grumblings, however, that the playoff system is unfair. This is because some teams could make the playoffs with 8-8 records while other teams could miss the playoffs despite having records of 10-6 or even 11-5. The grumblers argue the system would be more "fair" if the teams with the top records made the playoffs regardless of division.

Just as every political system has its drawbacks, so too does every playoffs scheme. Some are fairer than others, but none is perfect. The NFL has some of the best divisional rivalries in professional sports, and presumably the grumblers do not propose demolishing those rivalries. But if the divisions stay intact, team schedules will certainly be imbalanced. (Unlike in basketball, for example, where there are enough games to balance out schedules.) How fair is it for a team like Washington, who faces tough divisional opponents week in and week out, to get beat out by a team like Chicago, who gets two automatic wins against Detroit?

My feeling is that the teams who get shut out of the playoffs are sufficiently inconsistent that they're not great threats to win it all. A playoffs system is designed to select the best single team as a champion, not reward decent teams for solid seasons.