Why does the National Football League have an expanded playoff schedule this season?
It was put in as a protection for something that didn’t happen. Many thought, myself included, that threading the needle this season in the midst of a world pandemic without losing games on the regular season schedule was unlikely.
It is a tribute to contact tracing and cooperation of both organizations and players alike that the season did end on schedule last Sunday with all 256 regular season games being played. It wasn’t easy. This was the only season in NFL history when every day of the week was utilized to have games played. The primetime Thanksgiving game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens had to be rescheduled twice before finally being played on a Wednesday in December. It was one of a nearly dozen games rescheduled this season.
Yet, with that game and others being moved like pieces on a chess board, the NFL got it all done in the originally allotted time.
So, why the expanded playoff schedule?
It was agreed upon early in the campaign as a safeguard on teams not playing their full schedule and missing out on the playoffs, or, just as likely, teams getting into the postseason based on a record that was enhanced because they didn’t play all 16 of their regular season games.
The league was set to advance teams to the playoff field like Major League Baseball did in 2020, based on winning percentage when the actual number of games played was not uniform. Now, when baseball plays a 60 games schedule this method is less likely to skew the playoffs than when the NFL is engaged in a 16 game season.
As it turned out, the expanded playoff format was not needed, so what difference did it make?
It means the Buffalo Bills and New Orleans Saints have to play this week instead of getting the bye their second seed would normally have provided. It also means that the Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts cracked a playoff field that they would otherwise have missed.
The Colts would have had one of those bitter moments when a solid won/loss record, 11-5, didn’t produce a playoff date while a team with a losing mark, namely the squad in Washington not together enough to name their damn team, advances to the postseason field. The NFC Redskins are in, expanded playoff format or not, because they won their division. The Colts would have been out, because the Tennessee Titans edged them on the tiebreaker procedure in the AFC.
So, what are the Colts going to do with their entrance into the postseason akin to getting a reprieve from the governor while the prison guards are hooking their season up for execution?
I think the talented Colts, with a solid defense and experienced quarterback, are in a very good position to give the second seed Bills all they can handle.
But the Bears?
Earlier this season we made a selection on Chicago as a home team underdog against Drew Brees and his Saints. How did that turn out? Well, perhaps better than it should have. The 5½ point underdog Bears scored late to push the game to overtime, and then lost the game by a field goal.
As a handicapper, I’m not one of those that thinks I get robbed every time I lose and never lucky when I win. Truth be told, the Bears win in October was very fortunate and gained before the Saints had hit their full stride and while Chicago was getting points on the spread at Soldier Field.
I’ll take it, but I won’t press it.
Now, we have a Saints team that was eliminated in the first round last year in overtime by the Minnesota Vikings on their home field. They were favored in that game by a number like the one they are favored by this week when they host the Bears.
The difference is that this time the Saints win.
Qoxhi Picks: New Orleans Saints (-10) over Chicago Bears