Alternate Jersey: NFL Playoffs Remix

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The NFL Playoff results of another world

At the end of each season, you’ll probably hear this tired old narrative: “Teams that win their division with worse records than wild card teams shouldn’t host playoff games.” We hear it a lot, particularly with teams who manage to clinch the oft-pummeled, occasionally magical 4th seed. As of right now, the NFL playoffs have the following formula:

  • 2 Conferences send 6 teams to the playoffs.
  • The 4 divisions in each conference will send their champion to the playoffs; with at least one guaranteed home game.
  • The 2 teams with the best records outside of the division champions will make the playoffs as away teams in the first round.

For the most part, it works out pretty well. Great teams earn great seeding, great teams can plow through the playoffs in spite of seeding, etcetera etcetera.

But what if we indulged those people who think the playoffs could use a revamp?

In this scenario, we’re going to ditch this whole “division champion” thing and go for a more NBA/MLB/NHL style of playoff seeding. For the sake of this article, let’s establish our ground rules for these playoffs:

  1. Six best records in each conference make the playoffs. Period.
  2. Top 2 seeds will still get a bye week, with teams 3 and 4 still hosting teams 5 and 6. Typical NFL playoff rules but now we don’t have to worry about some 8-8 squad hosting a 12-4 squad.
  3. We’ll be covering the entirety of this decade starting with the 10-11 playoffs and ending with our most recent season as well as discussing some immediate aftermath of said playoffs.

Ready? Here we go!


2010-2011 Playoffs

NFC
  1. Atlanta Falcons (13-3)
  2. New Orleans Saints (11-5)
  3. Chicago Bears (11-5)
  4. Green Bay Packers (10-6)
  5. Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)
  6. New York Giants (10-6)
AFC 
  1. New England Patriots (14-2)
  2. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)
  3. Baltimore Ravens (12-4)
  4. New York Jets (11-5)
  5. Indianapolis Colts (10-6)
  6. Kansas City Chiefs (10-6)

A few things off the bat: You’ll notice that the Seahawks are not in the playoffs. Yes, the cries of a 7-9 team somehow managing to make the playoffs all vanish in a flash and the defending champion Saints don’t have to suffer the upset of falling to a 7-9 team. Note also that one player will be completely devoid of a nickname: Marshawn Lynch. Lynch’s “Beastmode” reputation was solidified in his dramatic Beastquake touchdown run. Furthermore, without this moment, Marshawn Lynch never becomes an icon. That performance coupled with a follow-up great game in the divisional round made Beastmode a household name. Without a playoff appearance, Lynch is just a guy who got traded from Buffalo to play for Seattle for 3/4 of a season and gained

That performance coupled with a follow-up great game in the divisional round made Beastmode a household name. Without a playoff appearance, Lynch is just a guy who got traded from Buffalo to play for Seattle for 3/4 of a season and gained a measly 573 yards. So you can forget about all those great press conference moments, commercials, and the most recent offseason storyline about his unretiring. Without that game against the Saints, none of it happens.

As for the remainder of the playoffs, the Saints edge out the Bears for the #2 seed in the NFC while the Seahawks vacancy is filled by the Giants. These two teams will square off in a low scoring affair that favors the Bears advancing. The Packers still pull out the win against Philly and move ahead to still beat the Falcons. What we’re now interested in is the Bears against the Saints. The Saints, you would think, with home field advantage and Drew Brees at the helm with a week of rest would be able to handle the Bears but remember what ended up being NOLA’s Achilles heel: the run game. You think Marshawn Lynch finally hitting a good game is a problem? Plug Matt Forte into that equation. Bears win, face the Packers, Cutler gets “injured” in the championship game, Green Bay is still in the Super Bowl.

In the AFC, it’s all the same teams with some rearranging. Kansas City still has to face Baltimore, but with the Ravens snagging the home field game this time. Ravens still smash the Chiefs and the Jets, having snagged a home field game of their own, once again edge out Peyton’s Colts. From here things are pretty normal; Jets upset the Patriots, Steelers stop the Ravens, Steelers hold off the magical run of New York and we’ve got ourselves the Pittsburgh Steelers vs Green Bay Packers Super Bowl. We know how that ends up going.

2011-2012

NFC 
  1. Green Bay Packers (15-1)
  2. San Francisco 49ers (13-3)
  3. New Orleans Saints (13-3)
  4. Atlanta Falcons (10-6)
  5. Detroit Lions (10-6)
  6. New York Giants (9-7)
AFC
  1. New England Patriots (13-3)
  2. Baltimore Ravens (12-4)
  3. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)
  4. Houston Texans (10-6)
  5. Cincinnati Bengals (9-7)
  6. Tennessee Titans (9-7)

You’ll notice some similar themes — a lot of the playoffs end up just getting rearranged. To start off: The Giants still face the Falcons but in Atlanta this time instead of New York, which turns out to make a world of difference for the dirty birds. After running simulation after simulation, the Falcons just manage to edge out the would be champions and move on. The Lions still go to New Orleans to get beat, leaving the Falcons to face Green Bay and the Saints to face the 49ers. Packers actually win this time, advancing to the conference finals against Alex Smith and the 49ers. (Remember this, it’s important!) The 49ers upset the would be defending champions with a dominant game from Frank Gore, Alex Smith wins the 2005 1st Round Quarterback dual, and the Niners are back in the big game.

In the AFC, Tim Tebow’s Broncos don’t even get a whiff of playoff glory, which means no overtime upset of the Steelers! Instead, Tennessee gets steamrolled by Pittsburgh while Houston still clobbers the Bengals. This means the Texans go face off with the Patriots while Pittsburgh goes to deal with their division rival again. The Texans, on paper, probably could have beat New England if Matt Schaub didn’t get his foot stepped on. The Texans don’t get blasted by New England thanks to a Wade Phillips defensive stand, but lack the offensive firepower to hang with the Patriots. New England goes on while Pittsburgh edges out the Ravens. The Patriots beat the Steelers and go on a date with Alex Smith’s gang.

Jim Harbaugh is sitting pretty right now. He’s got a Super Bowl appearance off the bat, is making the best out of a stacked roster, and gets a shot at beating Bill Belichick at Lucas Oil Stadium. Which, hey! He does! The 49ers beat New England in 9/10 simulations! So let’s talk about some aftermath of that whole shebang. When Smith goes down 2012, there’s an extra dilemma because the question of “Can Smith get your team to a Super Bowl?” never exists! He just won it! But with Colin Kaepernick suddenly bursting onto the scene and doing well, what on Earth are they going to do with these two great (at the time) quarterbacks?

The smart money says you take the recent Super Bowl-winning quarterback who was also leading the league in completion percentage at the time. Thus, Kaepernick and his rookie contract become up for grabs! There were a handful of teams looking to upgrade their quarterback position following this season and none more than the Buffalo Bills, who had just cut ties with Ryan Fitzpatrick after an abysmal season. Kaepernick goes to Buffalo, leaving Kansas City with a very open quarterback spot. A spot they’ll fill with the one and only quarterback taken in the 1st round of the 2013 draft: E.J. Manuel.

2012-2013

NFC
  1. Atlanta Falcons (13-3)
  2. San Francisco 49ers (11-4-1)
  3. Seattle Seahawks (11-5)
  4. Green Bay Packers (11-5)
  5. Washington Redskins (10-6)
  6. Minnesota Vikings (10-6)
AFC
  1. Denver Broncos (13-3)
  2. New England Patriots (12-4)
  3. Houston Texans (12-4)
  4. Indianapolis Colts (11-5)
  5. Baltimore Ravens (10-6)
  6. Cincinnati Bengals (10-6)

In what ultimately results in just reordering of the real playoffs, the NFC plays out as follow: Vikings backup Joe Webb is forced to go up against a fledgling version of the Legion of the Boom and gets torn to shreds while Griffin is still forced to play through the injury in the frozen fields of Green Bay. Packers and Seahawks still advance sending the Packers to take on Atlanta while Seattle does battle with Kaep’s 49ers. As Seattle is still fairly young at this point, the 49ers still continue their winning ways. Green Bay upsets the top seeded Falcons, booking them an appointment in San Francisco where they are given not even a hint of a chance against a souped up 49ers squad. San Fran still makes the Super Bowl!

In the AFC, Baltimore still takes out Luck’s Colts but on the road this time instead of in the warm confines of Baltimore. The Bengals also still end up stuck losing in Houston as Matt Schaub nets his first ever playoff victory. Everything else feels very familiar form here: The Ravens upset Peyton Manning in Denver, Houston gets trounced by New England, and Flacco goes full Flacco against New England. Ravens make the Super Bowl, beat the 49ers, and nothing severely changes in this season.

2013-2014

NFC
  1. Seattle Seahawks (13-3)
  2. Carolina Panthers (12-4)
  3. San Francisco 49ers (12-4)
  4. New Orleans Saints (11-5)
  5. Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)
  6. Arizona Cardinals (10-6)
AFC
  1. Denver Broncos (13-3)
  2. New England Patriots (12-4)
  3. Cincinnati Bengals (11-5)
  4. Indianapolis Colts (11-5)
  5. Kansas City Chiefs (11-5)
  6. San Diego Chargers (9-7)

In the NFC, wild card teams get a boost up and don’t have to fight nearly as hard. In addition, the Cardinals are able to make a playoff appearance after booting out the Packers and their 8-7-1 season (which could have been a 7-8-1 season in all actuality since they didn’t have to start Aaron Rodgers against Chicago to get that playoff spot). Arizona faces their division foe and defending champions of the 49ers but are sent back packing. Same for Nick Foles and his season of destiny as they still find themselves on the losing side of the Saints game.

The 49ers go up against young Cam Newton while New Orleans tries to redeem themselves against Seattle. If that sounds familiar it’s because that’s what actually happens. Seahawks and 49ers win and the Seahawks head to their 2nd Super Bowl ever. I’ll also save us some time with the AFC because it literally came out the exact same way. Denver takes the AFC and then the Seahawks humiliate Peyton Manning in front of hundreds of millions of people.

If that sounds familiar it’s because that’s what actually happens. Seahawks and 49ers win and the Seahawks head to their 2nd Super Bowl ever. I’ll also save us some time with the AFC because it literally came out the exact same way. Denver takes the AFC and then the Seahawks humiliate Peyton Manning in front of hundreds of millions of people.

2014-2015

NFC
  1. Seattle Seahawks (12-4)
  2. Green Bay Packers (12-4)
  3. Dallas Cowboys (12-4)
  4. Arizona Cardinals (11-5)
  5. Detroit Lions (11-5)
  6. Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)
AFC
  1. New England Patriots (12-4)
  2. Denver Broncos (12-4)
  3. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)
  4. Indianapolis Colts (11-5)
  5. Cincinnati Bengals (10-5-1)
  6. Baltimore Ravens (10-6)

Carolina’s miracle 4-game stretch to take the NFC South means nothing in this world as the Eagles get the playoff spot they deserve. This sends the Lions to face the Cardinals instead of the Panthers on a roll, but Arizona is still down two quarterbacks and a hope which means the Lions will have their first playoff win since 1991! Dallas, in the meantime, will lay waste to Mark Sanchez’s Eagles.

The Cowboys then still go to Green Bay where Dez still doesn’t catch it while the Seattle skies rain all over the Lions’ hopes and dreams. Green Bay goes on to have the worst two minutes of football and the Seahawks are still in the Super Bowl yet again. And again, in the spirit of brevity, the AFC playoffs have exactly 0 change. New England goes to the Super Bowl, the Seahawks don’t run the ball, and New England dynasty 2.0 gets a kick start. (Wow, what great playoffs for iconic moments right?)

2015-2016

NFC
  1. Carolina Panthers (15-1)
  2. Arizona Cardinals (13-3)
  3. Minnesota Vikings (11-5)
  4. Green Bay Packers (10-6)
  5. Seattle Seahawks (10-6)
  6. Washington Redskins (9-7)
AFC
  1. Denver Broncos (12-4)
  2. New England Patriots (12-4)
  3. Cincinnati Bengals (12-4)
  4. Kansas City Chiefs (11-5)
  5. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6)
  6. New York Jets (10-6)

Not too much change in the NFC. Green Bay takes on a considerably weaker Seattle team while also being considerably weaker themselves. In a low scoring bout, Green Bay uses home field advantage to their…well, advantage and move on. In Minnesota, Kirk Cousins will have many a reason to scream “you like that!” after getting his first playoff win as a starter against the Vikes! (But hey, no Blair Walsh jokes!) Cousins and Crew get pummeled by MVP Cam while Green Bay goes on to get Fitzgeralded. The story ends the same; Panthers humiliate Arizona and book themselves a trip to Super Bowl 50.

The only difference you will in the AFC will be the Jets end up in the playoffs instead of the Texans. This means that Ryan Fitzpatrick is finally a playoff quarterback and it poses us with a seemingly impossible question: Who has the worst luck, Ryan Fitzpatrick in an important game or the Bengals in the 1st round of the playoffs?

The answer revolves around A.J. McCarron. Up against Dalton? Sure, the Jets look toast. But given the defensive season New York had coupled with the fact that Fitz can still target Marshall and Decker, the Jets get their first playoff win since the Sanchize era. Kansas City and their loud stadium take full advantage of a slowed down Steeler offense and go on to get crushed by New England. Speaking of getting crushed: Fitzpatrick, meet Miller. Denver’s defense eats the Jets alive, Peyton does just enough to help beat New England with a sizable assist from a rare missed kick courtesy of Adam Vinatieri, and the Broncos still outmuscle the Panthers in the big show.

2016-2017

NFC
  1. Dallas Cowboys (13-3)
  2. Atlanta Falcons (11-5)
  3. New York Giants (11-5)
  4. Seattle Seahawks (10-5-1)
  5. Green Bay Packers (10-6)
  6. Detroit Lions (9-7)
AFC
  1. New England Patriots (14-2)
  2. Kansas City Chiefs (12-4)
  3. Oakland Raiders (12-4)
  4. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)
  5. Miami Dolphins (10-6)
  6. Houston Texans (9-7)

That brings us to this exciting year! The NFC picture takes on a whole new shape with Seattle hosting Green Bay instead of Detroit. The red-hot Packers put on a repeat performance of their domination against Seattle and get the go to move forward, while Detroit gets stuck facing the fresh off the boat Giants. The Giants manage to disprove curses against the tumbling Lions and get Odell Beckham’s first playoff win. The Packers go on to have their dramatic win against Prescott’s Cowboys while the Giants march into Atlanta.

Now, I want you all to know how this game could really go either way. Two high powered offenses and a Giants team that has done pretty well against the pass. The kicker against the Giants ends up being Atlanta’s run game. Sending Atlanta and Green Bay to the Conference Championship which goes pretty well for the Falcons. The Texans/Raiders game gets a flip on home field advantage, but the Texans still reign victorious while Miami gets pummeled by Pittsburgh. From here you know the drill: Steelers beat Chiefs with field goals, the Texans get whipped by New England, the Patriots make Pittsburgh look silly, Atlanta blew a 28-3 lead. Memes.


So what can we learn from this experiment? For the most part, the win-loss total doesn’t matter. In only one season this decade does it have a real impact. The NFL system doesn’t always make a ton of sense, but the teams who could have made it on their records alone don’t statistically hold a candle to the real world winners. The only people these Alternate Realities effect are Alex Smiths, Lions fans who care about playoff victory, and maybe Ryan Fitzpatrick for a day. There seems to be no immediate need for a re-imagining of the NFL playoffs.

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