For the sake of all of us, the Arizona Cardinals cannot be allowed to win this game today. If they did, it would leave open the very real chance that the winner of the NFC West could finish the year 7-9.
For the sake of all of us, the Arizona Cardinals cannot be allowed to win this game today.
If they did, it would leave open the very real chance that the winner of the NFC West could finish the year 7-9. A division winner hosting a playoff game with a .438 winning percentage would be a concession to all of football that the system doesn’t work, that bad teams can be rewarded while good teams are forced to stay home.
Of course, we should have seen this day coming. There was always a chance it was going to be there when the NFL decided to split into eight divisions back in 2001. But the money was too good. And it’s always about the money.
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The decision to add a new franchise made the owners’ eyes twinkle. When they agreed to let Houston businessman Bob McNair buy into their secret club, the fee was $700 million. He pulled out his checkbook and the owners cooed with delight, yet while everybody counted their piles of cool, new bullion, the competitiveness of their league was falling apart.
By sorting the NFL into four divisions in each conference, the owners created a world of possibility for even the most dysfunctional of organizations. All it takes is a bad batch of teams in a small division, and suddenly a team that should be picking in the first three hours on draft day is instead dumping Gatorade on a coach with a losing record.
But the man who stands to benefit the most from the absurdity of the NFC West this year simply shrugs. Cardinals coach Dennis Green is in charge of a team that has lost four of its last five games and hasn’t beaten anybody of consequence this year, unless you consider the Seahawks or Rams to be teams of consequence. Yet Green is not a dumb man. For when you coach the Arizona Cardinals, anything containing the word “playoff” is a good thing, regardless of how ridiculous the record.
“Those things happen,” he said. “I just think it’s going to happen more and more because you’re only playing six division games.”
When you only play six games against your closest competition, you limit the possibilities of creating a dominant team in each division. Which is how you get the NFC this year — the Eagles and Falcons and a whole bunch of teams who could be playing deep into January with 8-8 and 7-9 records.
The best thing that ever happened to the Seahawks was McNair and his $700 million. In the ensuing reshuffling of the divisions, Seattle was forced from the powerful AFC West and dumped into a division with some of the worst organizations in football. Thus ensuring that no matter how mediocre the Seahawks might be, they should always have a decent chance at the postseason bonanza.
Paul Allen might not seem emotionally attached to his football team, but at least he’s willing to write checks. That’s something more than the Bidwill family in Arizona and the Yorks in San Francisco will do. It never hurts to be dropped in among two of the worst-spending teams in the game. Especially after leaving a division with some of the league’s more committed owners, men like Denver’s Pat Bowlen, Kansas City’s Lamar Hunt and even Al Davis in his silver Raiders jumpsuits.
In the AFC West, 7-9 would get a head start on planning for the draft.
In the NFC West, 7-9 could get a spot in the playoffs. And there’s no reason to think it’s going to change anytime soon.
The chance of repeat 7-9 champions is more real than anyone wants to admit. Arizona, St. Louis and the Seahawks all have a chance to win the division with a losing record. As a matter of fact, all three have a chance to finish 7-9 all at once. And if that happens, one team could take the division and another could be the wild card.
Certainly the NFL had to know this was a possibility when it sliced up the old, well-functioning system of three divisions.
“Yeah, they look at that,” said Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren, an on-again, off-again member of the league’s competition committee. “They don’t want that to happen. Under a normal set of circumstances it probably shouldn’t happen. It would have to happen a couple times in a row for any dramatic changes to take place, I think. Typically, that’s how changes take place in the league. You have to see a little bit of a pattern.”
Then, as if he couldn’t resist, Holmgren looked back on the last few weeks of an instant-replay system that has failed his team.
“I don’t think they should realign and change the whole scheduling process of the NFL because a replay official was having a hotdog,” he said. “You know what I mean?”
There is a lot more wrong with Holmgren’s team than 100 hotdog-eating replay officials could ever fix. But maybe today if Cardinals receiver Anquan Boldin looks on a replay to catch a pass that was ruled a drop, the replay official should simply eat another cookie and down another Pepsi.
Why make a farce out of a division that has already become a joke?
Les Carpenter: 206-464-2280 or firstname.lastname@example.org.