The NFL got its first Monday night playoff game. It’s got its first expanded playoffs in a non…well, less COVID season (barely). And it was all something of a bust. One good game, five ass-kickings, some wondering what all the fuss was about.
The natural urge is to say that the expanded playoffs made this happen. That letting in a team that wouldn’t have been good enough in the past, as well as dropping down a team that would have gotten a bye into the first round, makes for garbage entertainment. And certainly the Chiefs, Bucs, Eagles, and Steelers made that suspicion about the 2-7 seed matchups look pretty concrete. Last year, so did the Saints and Bears, though the Bills and Colts ended up being a good game. Still, all the other playoff matchups are the ones you would have gotten in the playoff system used before, and half of those four ended up in blowouts anyway, and the Niners-Cowboys kind of was except for a death rattle from the Cowboys that really only succeeded in providing even more schadenfreude.
It could just be one of those years where the NFL’s dream of parity never really came close to being in existence. The entire NFC East was a joke, with the Cowboys’ only wins over a playoff team were over their fellow fraud Eagles and an OT win against a Pats team that still no one really knows what to make of. Three-fourths of the NFC South drown in the rain, as did three-fourths of the NFC North. Basically, for NFC teams, there were a lot of easy wins to pick up if you had half a clue of what you were doing. It could muddy figuring out who was actually good and who wasn’t. And certainly a 17th game added whatever percentage of wear-and-tear on lower-seeded teams that probably aren’t as well equipped to deal with rifling through their depth. Otherwise they’d probably be higher seeds.
In the AFC, we already knew that the North below the Bengals was pretty trash. We won’t know about the South until the Titans show up next week, and there will be plenty picking the Bengals with Joe Burrow on this heater.
The NFL was certainly aware that the 2-7 matchup will always be akin to a ritual killing, but it’s hard to see why they would care. Everyone will watch, networks will drop anvils on each other for the right to get more playoff games, so this is what we’ll be served from now on. If you’re hoping that MLB will see this and conclude that expanding the playoffs so they can have more trash rounds is a shit idea, I want to live in your optimistic world. Must be nice.
Maybe next year we’ll get four or five good games for no other reason than randomness. Maybe we won’t. The argument will be that a 2 seed, which is almost always within a game or less of the 1 seed, probably should get something of a red carpet to the next round, otherwise what was the season all about? If you don’t get a bye anymore for going 13-4 or thereabouts, the next best thing is a hanging curve of an opponent. Not really a big deal, even if it ruins a buzz.