Search

Champs or Chumps? Realignment's worst nightmare: An 8--8 division winner could go to the playoffs while a 10--6 wild card stays home

Nov. 11, 2002
Nov. 11, 2002

Table of Contents
Nov. 11, 2002

Champs or Chumps? Realignment's worst nightmare: An 8--8 division winner could go to the playoffs while a 10--6 wild card stays home

If the rise of the young quarterback was the story of the first
half of the 2002 season, brace for the prospect of a controversy
in the second half. When the NFL realigned its six divisions into
eight in May 2001 and kept the playoff pool at 12 teams, the
number of wild-card entries per conference was reduced from three
to two. That move increased the chances that a mediocre division
champ--the AFC South winner, for instance, might have only eight
wins this year--could make the playoffs while a 10-or 11-win team
misses out.

This is an article from the Nov. 11, 2002 issue Original Layout

Yet even if a playoff-worthy team is jilted, the postseason
format will not be adjusted for '03. "When we put this system in,
we said we were going to give it two years," says Rich McKay, the
Bucs' general manager and co-chair of the NFL competition
committee. "We knew some anomalies could occur."

Some teams aren't happy to hear that. "Think of what a nightmare
it would be," says Chiefs pro personnel director Bill Kuharich,
"if an 8--8 team gets in and a 10--6 team doesn't--and that 10--6
team beat the 8--8 team during the season."

According to league sources, NFL owners considered two other
options. Number 1: Expand the pool to 14 teams, play three games
in each conference on the first playoff weekend and give the team
with the best record in each conference a bye. This option was
rejected because of fears that it would be seen as watering down
the playoffs the way other sports have. Number 2: Award the six
playoff spots in each conference to the teams with the best
records. "Who cares who wins the NFC West or the AFC South?" says
Rams general manager Charley Armey. "What we should care about is
that our best teams make the playoffs." But that proposal fizzled
because of the premium the league places on winning a
division. --Peter King

PROJECTED PLAYOFF LINEUP

AFC

DIVISION CHAMPS

1. Steelers (12--4); 2. Broncos (11--5); 3. Dolphins (10--6); 4.
Titans (8--8)

WILD CARDS

5. Chargers (10--6); 6. Patriots (10--6)

WILD-CARD ROUND

Chargers 18, Titans 10; Dolphins 21, Patriots 9

DIVISIONAL ROUND

Steelers 24, Chargers 16; Broncos 16, Dolphins 13

CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

Steelers 27, Broncos 24

NFC

DIVISION CHAMPS

1. Eagles (12--4); 2. Packers (12--4); 3. Bucs (12--4); 4. 49ers
(11--5)

WILD CARDS

5. Saints (11--5); 6. Falcons (9--7)

WILD-CARD ROUND

49ers 36, Saints 20; Bucs 19, Falcons 17

DIVISIONAL ROUND

49ers 25, Eagles 20; Packers 12, Bucs 10

CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

Packers 30, 49ers 28

SUPER BOWL XXXVII

Steelers 31, Packers 30

COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO LOOKING SUPER Plaxico Burress and the Steelers are poised to make a run for the franchise's fifth NFL title.