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Joe Nelson - Blogs

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BETWEEN THE LINES - JAN. 23

By Joe Nelson
Posted 01/23/2009 at 04:50 PM

Strong advocates of a college football playoff may want to take a look at this year’s (and really the last four year’s) NFL playoffs and decide if it is a good idea. Clearly Arizona was not one of the best regular season teams yet got hot for three games and is playing for the sport’s biggest prize. By clinching a very weak division early in the year Arizona was able to place less importance on late season games and as a result turned in some ugly performances. If the Cardinals win on Sunday it will be the fourth consecutive season that a top two seed has failed to win the Super Bowl.

If it can happen in the NFL playoffs, it could happen in a proposed college playoff system and it would be foolish to think that a mediocre conference champion with an automatic bid such as this year’s Cincinnati of the Big East or Virginia Tech of the ACC couldn’t get things together for a couple of games and wind up with a national championship with an 11-4 record ousting teams that finished the regular season undefeated along the way.

The current college system does offer the critical importance on every single game, week in and week out which separates college football from every other sport. Every week is an elimination week and it would surely be a shame to see a top notch college team rest players in a late season rivalry game to ready for a playoff run as is seen so often in the NFL. It’s not to say that some form of a playoff system or a change to the current structure would not be a good thing but something could definitely be lost in such a transformation.

There is some appeal of an underdog getting on a great run as occasionally happens in the NCAA basketball tournament but taking away the importance of the regular season and of storied rivalries would be a dangerous precedent. The Super Bowl tradition of the playoffs has been established and a run like Arizona has had is not that unusual. With more teams making the playoffs than in past year’s and the inevitable runaway division winner on occasion less importance is placed on the regular season, although plenty of good teams do not make it each year. One major difference that will keep the regular season important in the NFL is home field advantage, which although in recent years has not been as meaningful on the field, is still very meaningful in terms of revenue to the franchises.

This past regular season saw unprecedented success for road teams and in the playoffs half of the games were won by the visitor. In the conference championships however home field did prove decisive in both games and not in the past ten years have both visiting conference championship teams advanced to the Super Bowl (though only twice in the past ten years have the home teams swept).

This year’s Super Bowl match-up provides intrigue with two star QBs, both already with championships. The franchises could not have more different histories with the Steelers being one of the most successful, most popular, and most respected teams in the league while the Cardinals have had virtually no success in the NFL’s modern era and have gone through countless makeovers. Tampa Bay shattered its ugly image with consistent playoff appearances and a win in Super Bowl XXXVII, the Cardinals have the opportunity to erase all the bad news from the past with one more win.

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