Friday, December 29, 2006

Weekend Football Preview:
NFL Tanking-Mania Plus CFB Bowlin'

Let's be honest here: NFL Week 17 SEEMED exciting last Sunday, but since has fizzled as reality has set in that it's not THAT in doubt.

The NFC could be sewn up as early as Saturday. If the Giants beat the Redskins, they're a virtual Wild Card lock and an esteemed member of the .500 Playoff Team Club.

More intriguing: What if the Giants LOSE? (As they certainly deserve to.) The Packers are next in line but end in Chicago. On its face, that looks like a crushing loss, but what motivation do the Bears have to play anyone but taxi-squadders, having already locked up NFC HFA? I retch at the thought of coverage of Brett Favre in the playoffs, buoyed only by the reality that he and the Packers would get destroyed next week.

The AFC has two teams who Control Their Own Destiny (which remains one of the all-time great phrases in sports): The Jets, who play the hapless Raiders (who have no incentive to win, given their dogfight with the Lions for the No. 1 overall NFL Draft pick), and the Broncos, who play the 49ers, who – at this point – have no incentive to win and consequently tumble down the draft board.

(The Bengals, Titans, Jags and Chiefs all need help. Of course, the Jags and Chiefs play each other. The Bengals can put the final nail in the 2006 coffin of the Steelers. The Titans play the Pats, which would be a loss in any other week, but given the Pats have nothing to gain by playing hard, Tennessee could end as the hottest team in the NFL yet still not make the playoffs, even though at this point, they'd be favored to win the NFC.)

Week 17 in the NFL always brings me back to my ongoing debate with readers about Tanking. Though many are loathe to admit it, there are several times when tanking isn't just justified, but optimal. This weekend showcases two:

(1) Non-playoff teams tanking for draft position. It's not just the Lions and Raiders jockeying for No. 1 overall. Why would any non-playoff-contending team try to win and mess up a critical draft slot (or several)?

(2) Playoff teams tanking because they have no reason to win. Call it the Colts Rule. As long as playoff position – a bye week or home-field advantage – isn't on the line, wouldn't a team feel stupid if one of their starters were injured in what is otherwise a meaningless game? And so the coaches hold as many talents out as possible, and you get the feeling that if the NFL gave them an option to simply forfeit the game and not put ANY players at risk, they would not only do it, but stake out the competitive high road while doing it.

Let me say it again: In a week like this, tanking the game is arguably the SUPERIOR option for several/many teams. And yet no one seems to really care, because the fans of non-playoff teams are already looking to the draft (and optimal draft position) for hope and fans of playoff teams don't want to see the team get a key injury before the playoffs, when the games actually matter. (Thus, by implication: For so many teams, this game just doesn't matter.)

I'm going to skip game-by-game predictions and go straight to this:

The Jets and the Broncos will be the AFC Wild Card teams, and the Giants will somehow fall ass-backwards into a playoff spot (though it's not like any of the other NFC 6-seed contenders deserve it more). Otherwise, tank away!

Meanwhile, there are 10 college football bowls running through Monday. Saturday's three are worth watching to see Texas' fall from BCS title-game glory to the Alamo Bowl and to see Georgia freshman QB Matt Stafford take on the VA Tech defense. Sunday is a single bowl game: Larry Coker's swan song on the blue turf of the MPC Computers Bowl. I'm going to save my analysis of Jan. 1 bowls until Monday morning, but I'm personally most interested in the Rose Bowl (obvs) and the Arkansas-Wisconsin Cap One Bowl game, which should illuminate whether Wisco was as overrated as everyone thinks they are or whether Arkansas wasn't the bellweather win for Florida everyone gave the Gators credit for. (Oh, and Boise State pulling a "2004 Utah" and stomping Oklahoma for an unbeaten season and at least a nominally plausible claim at a share of the national title.)

More later.

-- D.S.


Brian in Oxford said...

The Giants win and they're in, unless all 9 of the following also win:

Green Bay
San Francisco
New Orleans

Anyone taking bets on THAT teaser?

Sheldiz said...

i'm shocked and appalled by the fact that i'm actually rooting for the packers to make the playoffs.

Christian Thoma said...

...and everyone doubted me 3 weeks ago when I came up with the scenario(s) for the Packers to make the playoffs.

Christian Thoma said... I'd like to remind Dan of this:

NFC North
1. Bears
2. Vikings (WC)
3. Lions
4. Packers

marcomarco said...

Thanks for the lookback chrth.

NFL '06 picks

Not too bad, overall. Jacksonville #1? lol.

Christian Thoma said...

Tanking in the NFL is stupid.
Sure, it makes sense in the NBA Draft because there's a limited number of players and each individual's impact is that much greater, but the NFL is the last place I'd want to tank. The #1 pick might as well be a curse. Sure, he might turn out to be the QB of the future ... when you can finally afford other players 3 or 4 years down the road.

Give me a #5 over a #1 anytime. Or a #15 over a #10.

Sheldiz said...

i'm STILL strictly anti-tank.

I don't think you can be a true fan and support your team intentionally losing, no matter what the consequence. i agree that maybe its okay to rest your starters if you're headed to the playoffs and want to avoid injury, but the 11 guys on the field sure as hell better show up to play.

but that's just my opinion.

Christian Thoma said...

@jo fer:
Kudos to Rutgers, but can WV, BC, and Louisville follow suit?

Uh, did you just move BC back into the Big East?

BLUE said...

Maybe he meant South Florida, rather then BC, because South Florida already won a bowl game from the Big East.

Christian Thoma said...

I think we all know who we are talking about.

Yep. God Bless the Mediocre NFC.


3. Didn't beat a team with a winning record all year long. Combined record of opponents they beat. 33-72

Obviously that would change since they'd have to beat Chicago to be 8-8.

Anonymous said...

You gotta play the schedule you have. The Jets have only beaten one team with a winning record (The Patriots, who they split with). And the Jaguars would be in the playoffs if they beat the shitty teams they lost to. There are no polls in the NFL. It doesn't matter who you beat, just that you do beat them.

Anonymous said...

We are finally getting to some good bowl games.

I'm hoping Stafford's evolution continues against that Va. Tech D.

THis could be one of those ugly games.

Anonymous said...

Here's my not-thought-out solution, so it may having gaping holes of logic in it:

Last game of the season doesn't count toward Draft standing. That way, bad coaches whose job is on the line can put their all into that game without sabotaging the team's future pick. And we can all agree that if there are no extenuating circumstances, teams want to win, so just remove those extenuating circumstances. The key here is, some people may PAY actual money for TICKETS to this last game of the season, so they deserve a real game.

I don't know any solution to the whole "team's already wrapped up HFA" situation, though.

Sheldiz said...

or the draft lottery could actually BE a lottery. with the winningest and the losingest teams both having an equal chance of the first pick.

OR cage matches to decide.

i think either of those would work.

Anonymous said...

(Oh, and Boise State pulling a "2004 Utah" and stomping Oklahoma for an unbeaten season and at least a nominally plausible claim at a share of the national title.)

Want a sure way to double your money, take OU and the points (last line I saw was 7.5). Unlike Utah, Boise State is playing a deserving BCS team (we all know OU should be a 1 loss team). Boise State's D-line is slower than OU's O-line and gives up an average of 30 lbs. This will probably be the biggest blowout of all the BCS games.

Anonymous said...

it is unwise to look at the bowl games as any kind of valid evidence of a particular conference's strength. too many factors(layoffs, suspensions, injuries, motivation, disappointment, bowl malaise, etc.) keep the bowls from being a true test. now, if we had that 16 team playoff, with every game meaning win or go home, then we find out more about how good each conference is. the only game that matters this year is usu v. uf

Anonymous said...

of course i meant osu v. uf

chipp said...

I suspect the issue of tanking would be a coaching/front office plan; the players couldn't really be involved. There's too much pride at stake, especially for players that might not be there the next year (FAs, retirees). Someone possibly playing his/her last game wouldn't allow anyone else on their team to hurt his/her chances of winning his/her last ever game. This applies to all sports at all levels. No way anyone should tank a so-called "meaningless game."

Exception: NBA Playoff standing last year. It was the rule breaker, but that was just in regards to DEN/LAC seeding: they were both getting in. They tanked for seeding, not draft status.

Anonymous said...

jo fer is wrong. Taking your reasoning to its absurd extreme, if every team comes into the game an underdog, and they lose, that proves nothing about the conference, just the pairings.

1. If teams are routinely going in a favorite, and lose, that proves something.
2. If teams are going in an underdog, and win, that proves something.