Remember all the pre-season hype heaped on the 49ers, Griffin's Redskins, and the Giants (led by the indomitable, sure-handed, definition-of-clutch, two-time Super Bowl MVP, eight-INTs-in-three games, Eli Manning)?
On the Friday of kickoff weekend 2013, we reviewed the final pre-season Vegas odds here on BTB. At the time, the 49ers (11 projected wins), Packers (10.5), Falcons (10), and Giants (9) were projected as the division winners for 2013. A mere 16 days later, none of those four teams would even qualify for the playoffs - if the season were to end today.
Instead, a new crop of teams has set out to prove the old adage that the playoff field churns by about 50% from year to year: Since the league moved to a 12-team playoff format in 1990, an average of about six new teams made the NFL playoffs every year. Only once, in 1994, did that number dip to four teams.
Of the four current NFC division leaders (Cowboys, Bears, Saints, and Seahawks) not a single team won their division last year, and only the Seahawks made the playoffs as a wildcard team. If the season were to end today, here's who the NFC playoff participants would be:
|Seed||Team||W/L Record||Divisional Record||Conference Record|
Quick update on the tiebreakers for playoff participants: Division leaders are determined by the best overall division record, the seeding would normally be determined by head-to-head record, but absent head-to-head matchups so far, the seeding is determined by the conference record. Wilcard berths are also determined by best overall record. Detroit gets the first wildcard spot as the only non-division leader with a 2-1 overall record. Seven NFC teams have a 1-2 record, and the tiebreaker for these teams is the conference record. The Eagles are the only 1-2 team without a loss in a conference game, so they get the final wildcard spot.
The same exercise for the AFC has the Patriots, Bengals, Texans, and (very likely) the Broncos as division winners after three weeks, all of whom made the playoffs last year. Miami and Kansas City (both with 3-0 records) would be the wildcard teams (again, in case of a likely Denver win against Oakland tonight) and both would be new playoff participants.
In total, if the playoffs were to begin today, seven new teams would make the playoffs, which is only slightly more than the six-team average of the last 23 years. At the start of every new season, it always takes a while for us to reconfigure our mental landscape of the NFL hierarchy, as last year's favorites falter and last year's underachievers suddenly flourish.
Anything can happen in the NFL. Every new NFL season is always a new chance for teams that fell short of the playoffs the season before. The NFL is intrinsically designed to be a parity-driven league; the draft, revenue sharing, the salary cap, compensatory draft picks, all the way through the schedule; everything about the NFL is designed so that every team from every market has a legitimate opportunity to compete year-in and year-out.
Every year a team that nobody was thinking of as a contender suddenly strings together a couple of wins early in the year, starts playing like a good football team in the middle of the season and actually becomes a good football team as it clinches a playoff spot late in the season.
There's no reason why the Cowboys couldn't be that team in 2013.