17 November 2010

Pilgrims to the Playoffs and Turkeys of the Season

Less than two weeks remain before one of the most important holidays occurs. Although the plethora of d├ęcor in retail locations would lead one to assume that Christmas is rapidly approaching, the calendar indicates otherwise. Thanksgiving Day provides not only its traditional platter of National Football League’s games, it also serves as a benchmark at this point of the season.

Numerous turkeys have already appeared on the scene. Dallas made the first termination of a coach. Randy Moss has accelerated his “Alienation of the Nation Tour” by joining his third team this season; one must assume that he will jump to yet another team after this season. Fans rooting for a team to finish undefeated were all crushed by the end of the fifth week of the season. Also, the folly of players hosting their own television series has been exposed as a cause of a defending divisional champion to crumble.

American Football Conference
Eastern Division: The Jets hold a slim lead over the Patriots, based mostly on their victory at home versus New England. New York can distance itself from the rest of the division with victories in the first weeks of December. However, New England has plenty of experience to overtake New York, if they can win the rematch to keep pace with the Jets. Miami is fading fast due to its losing record within the division and the conference. The Dolphins must win on the road against both divisional leaders just to have a prayer of making the playoffs.
Northern Division: Baltimore and Pittsburgh are running neck and neck, with the Ravens ahead by a nose due to its head-to-head win. Each team plays three divisional games during the last five weeks of the season. Those will decide who grabs the AFC North title and who settles for a wildcard entry. The prima donnas in the orange and black stripes have flopped miserably.

Southern Division: The Colts no longer can claim this division as their personal playpen. Indianapolis is alone in first place by only one game, with the cellar dwelling Texans only two games back. Houston and Jacksonville have already beaten Indianapolis to remain in contention for the divisional crown. Everyone in the AFC South has at least one divisional win. This race most likely will not be settled until Week Sixteen at the earliest.

Western Division: This division is also no longer the domain of a single franchise. The Chargers have plodded to losing records, both overall and within the division. The Raiders and Chiefs have overcome their recent history of putridity to eke out records a game above .500. One must wonder if Oakland and Chiefs might become too distracted by media reports of their resurgence then falter, allowing San Diego to regain its mastery of this group.

National Football Conference
Eastern Division: The media’s favorite division is not as dominant as predicted but still entertainingly competitive. The top two teams in this division have yet to face each other. In fact, the Giants have yet to face either the Redskins or Eagles. Despite the Eagles’ demolition of the Redskins, Washington remains in contention. Cowboys’ fans can only lament Jerry Jones’ late decision to fire Wade Philips and his predictions of hosting the Super Bowl with his team participating.

Northern Division: Chicago holds multiple tie-breakers over Green Bay so their first place tie is rather deceiving. Vikings’ fans only have the never-ending speculation over Bret Favre’s retirement to occupy the remainder of the season. The Lions will have to settle for trying to win on Thanksgiving Day for the first time since 2003.

Southern Division: If not for the awful presence of Carolina, this division would clearly stand out as the toughest in the league. Both NFC wildcard could easily emerge from this group. Atlanta holds the advantage over New Orleans and Tampa Bay by virtue of victories over both. However, both trail the Falcons by only one game so either one could surpass Atlanta to grab the divisional title. This race will go down to the final week and likely require multiple layers of tie-breakers.

Western Division: Could someone delve into the NFL’s by-laws to find an obscure clause precluding this division’s least odious team from the entering playoffs? The divisional leader sits one game above .500 while the rest sport losing records. Despite the hype over Pete Carroll’s arrival, San Francisco’s revival and Arizona’s recent post-season success, this is the still the “NFC Worst”.


11 November 2010

Leaves, Contenders and Excuses Continue to Fall

As foliage diversifies in color then drops across the country, college football has entered into the final third of its season. The controversies surrounding the Bowl Championship Series continue to build like piles of leaves at this time of year. The proponents of the BCS point to the regular season games as de facto playoffs. If that is true, losses by Utah, Alabama and Oklahoma have winnowed the forest of red-hued contenders for the two slots available in Glendale, Arizona, at least in the opinions of the defenders of the status quo.

However, this picturesque and orderly scene deceives those who deny the BCS's flaws. Pundits switched from mentioning Alabama’s self-determination to reach the BCS title game to speculating on what must occur for Louisiana State to finish in the top two after the regular season. Additionally, since Saturday, the media has frequently debated about which of the nine teams with one loss could or should surpass Boise State or Texas Christian in the polls. The concept of eliminating challengers each week seems spurious. Actually, the rankings appear like a freshly raked lawn, which is quickly re-cluttered by the appearance of more leaves.

Four weeks remain before the final BCS poll will determine the contestants for the mythical national title game. The presence of two undefeated teams from minor conferences in the top five of the polls has spawned a tremendous amount of debate. The acrimony will spike even higher if Auburn or Oregon lose. If the Ducks or Tigers or both drop a game, who should replace them in the BCS title game? Should a one-loss champion from Big Ten or Big Twelve leap over undefeated Boise State or TCU? If LSU finishes with only one loss but does not play the Southeastern Conference’s championship game, do the Tigers deserve a shot at the BCS title instead of the Frogs or Broncos? If the top four teams all finish 12-0, the media and fans will scream thunderously for a “plus one” game after bowls long touted by critics of the current system.

The controversy will not exist solely around the pairing of opponents for the last game of the season. If Boise State or TCU do not play in the BCS Title Game, in which bowl will they conclude their seasons? The Atlantic Coast Conference’s champion will play in the Orange Bowl despite having at least two losses. The winner of the Big East will receive an invitation to one of the four other BCS bowls despite having at least three losses. Would the four bowls prefer to choose an also-ran from the SEC, Big Ten or Big Twelve in lieu of one of those undefeated teams without a guaranteed BCS bid for winning their conferences? The debate in the backrooms among bowl executives will weigh the value of larger fan bases and more name recognition versus the allure of underdogs with perfect records. This issue will also spawn more threats of lawsuits and Congressional intervention plus calls to strip automatic BCS berths from the ACC and the Big East.

There remains one final question to ponder. Will this year’s batch of thorny issues finally kill the BCS and give birth to a true playoff system? Lovers of college football can only wait and hope that the beauty of this and future seasons will cease their annual dreary conclusions.