Greg Cote

Greg Cote: Time to tweak NFL playoff format so best get in

It might be time for the NFL to reconsider how it picks and seeds its playoff teams. Two divisional anomalies prompt the thought.

The AFC North, right now, is only the second division ever to have every team at least two games above .500 at any point in the season. The one other occurrence was in distant 1935.

Oppositely, in the NFC South, the 11 combined victories are the fewest by a division at this point in a season since 1984. The Saints are in first place at 4-5.

This makes the chances good that, once again, there will be teams making the playoffs with worse records than teams that are left out. That has happened in 11 different seasons since the current postseason format took effect in 1990. It doesn’t make much sense.

I’m not suggesting King Sport abolish its division system, which is traditional and fosters rivalries. But it might be time to stop rewarding and penalizing teams in a way that is illogical. Why should a team that “wins” its division with an 8-8 record make the playoffs ahead of another team whose 10-6 mark finished third in a different (and obviously better) division?

Playoff qualifiers should be the six of 16 teams in each conference with the best record, regardless of division. That isn’t revolutionary. It’s common sense.

DOLPHINS/PRO BOWL

Only three Dolphins are in the top 10 leaguewide at their position in early Pro Bowl fan voting: Cameron Wake (fourth among defensive ends), Mike Pouncey (eighth among guards) and Jarvis Landry (10th among return specialists). Brent Grimes deserves to be in there at cornerback but is getting the big snub.

Landry’s 32.0 kickoff-return average led the NFL entering Thursday night’s game. The Dolphins’ season record is 32.9 by Duriel Harris in 1976.

SCATTER-SHOOTING

▪ This week marks first time this late in a season there have been four games between teams with winning percentages of .667-plus: Seahawks-Chiefs, Eagles-Packers, Lions-Cardinals and Patriots-Colts.

▪ Updated Super Bowl betting odds, via Bovada: Broncos 13-4, Patriots 13-2, Packers 15-2, Seahawks 17-2, Colts 10-1. Unusual to have teams from same conference running 1-2. MVP faves are Peyton Manning at 2-1, Aaron Rodgers and Andrew Luck both 3-1, Tom Brady 4-1 and DeMarco Murray 9-1.

▪ Significance of 49ers getting Aldon Smith back? He’s No.1 all-time in sacks per game at 0.98, ahead of Bronco Von Miller’s 0.91 and Hall of Famer Reggie White’s 0.85. (Miami’s Wake is at 0.70.)

▪ Updated playoff odds from makenflplayoffs.com entering Thursday night’s game had Dolphins with a 31.8 percent chance, down from 42.1 percent before the loss in Detroit.

▪ Sixteen teams at 4-5 right now have made the playoffs since the current format took effect in 1990, but the only 3-6 teams to do it were the 1994 Patriots, ’95 Lions, ’96 Jaguars and 2012 Redskins.

▪ One more record for Denver’s Manning: His 44th TD pass of 50-plus yards broke the record he shared with Brett Favre. That reminds me. Bronco DeMaryius Thomas has six consecutive 100-yard receiving games. Record is eight, by Calvin Johnson two seasons ago.

▪ Eagles are first team with nine return TDs at this point in a season since the 1976 Broncos.

▪ Pack’s Rodgers last week became first QB with six TD passes in a half since Oakland’s Daryle Lamonica in 1969.

▪ You know how NFL teams talk about “separating” themselves from the pack? It is happening, for good and ill. Almost half of the league, 14 teams, have current streaks of at least three wins in a row (six teams) or three losses in a row (eight teams).

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