Mansfield Fox

Law student. Yankees fan. Massive fraggle. Just living the American dream.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Winning the NFC North is a Boobie Prize

The NFC North is - by leagues, furlongs and other really long measures of distance - the worst division in professional football. There's an outside chance that the four-team division may be won with a team with a 5-11 record; a 7-9 record will win the thing going away. When this happens, many people will do the easy thing: they'll wail and gnash their teeth over the prospect that such an awful team has made the playoffs; they'll heap scorn on the Bears/Lions/Packers team that limped in (if you think the Vikings are winning this thing, I have a bridge you might be interested in purchasing) while throwing a gi-normous pity party for the Eagles, Redskins and Panthers, who'll have nothing to show for their 9-7 or better records but a lot of free time in January. The airwaves will be willed with cries of "woe is me" and cogent-but-passionate arguments from Sal in Brooklyn that Tagliabue has lost his golden touch, that the League is doomed, etc etc. Then the Falcons will beat them 55-3 and within a few weeks people will scarcely remember the controversy (see Padres, San Diego, 2005).

As I said, many people will do the easy thing, but I shall not. That's not how we roll here at Mansfield Fox, as anyone who's seen me try to put my pants on two legs at a time can attest. I'm going to say something new, fresh and original, something that challenges conventional wisdom but is nonetheless blindingly true:

The real loser will be the poor team that wins the NFC North with a losing record.

The NFC North title is a booby prize. Think about it: what do you win? A chance to get demolished, at home, in the playoffs. The opportunity to be the goat in a multi-week national sports mini-scandal where you (unfairly) become "what's wrong with parity" and the perceived reason why millions of fans' favorite teams didn't make the playoffs.

What do you give up for this illustrious prize? Draft position. The team that wins the NFC North will still be a bad team. In a normal year, the record the that team will have would yield a top 10 (at worst, top 12) draft pick. But because of the way the NFL draft works, the NFC North champ will get the 21st pick, since all 20 non-playoff teams (including all those poor 9-7 teams mentioned earlier) get to pick before the first playoff team does. So, in exchange for the opportunity to embarrass one's self in a first round playoff game and briefly serve as a national pariah, they get to go from a high draft pick to a mid-first rounder. That's a deal you'd make, right?

(The obvious solution, by the way, is to give the Commissioner discretionary authority to kick .500-or-worse division winners out of the playoffs and temporarily establish a third Wild Card spot. Will that happen? Probably not, if only because fans don't actually care about this stuff as much as they think they do when it's happening. Again, see Padres, San Diego, 2005.)

Take away point: the eventual NFC North champs deserve not our scorn, but our pity. May God have mercy on them.