Point/Counterpoint: Good and Bad Fits at the Combine

The NFL world has been abuzz with the Scouting Combine for the last week or so as collegiate stars roll into Indianapolis to take their turn through the examination, interview and workout process.

As we count down to the NFL Draft in April, everything is still all up in the air and up for debate. Even on draft day, the experts’ big boards and draft predictions will be shuffling and changing with new information and developments. But at least with the Combine nearly behind us, we are one step closer to knowing the newest Buccaneers in 2013.

From 40 times and 3-cone shuffles, interviews and team needs, let’s go ahead and take a look at few of the incoming rookies who have been making some waves this week in Indy. We’ll take less of a point/counterpoint stance, and instead pose the question “Good Fit/Bad Fit” trying to see which rookies could make the biggest impact on the 2013 Bucs season.

I’ll let you have the floor first. Go ahead and name a prospect and let’s see how you think they’ll mesh (or not mesh) with the 2013 Buccaneers. Continue reading

Point/Counterpoint: How Would an All-Buc Draft Play Out?

The NFL Draft is still two months away.  Your fantasy football drafts even longer.  Maybe you pass the time in March with a fantasy baseball draft or too, but we all know that’s not the same thing.

Here at the CB, we’re jonesin’ for some draftin’ right now, so we came up with this idea: What if two G.M.s were to split the current Buc roster in two by holding a back-and-forth draft of the 60 or so available players?  Who would be the most coveted player?  How would the two G.M.’s go about building a foundation for the future?

Let’s not speculate; let’s do it.  You and me, Andrew.

Here are the ground rules: Continue reading

Point/Counterpoint: Who will be the most coveted player on the NFL’s free agency market this year?

A little less than a year ago, the Buccaneers made the biggest single-day free agency splash in franchise history, immediately snapping the most coveted wide receiver (Vincent Jackson) AND the most coveted offensive lineman (Carl Nicks) off the market, as well as starting-caliber cornerback Eric Wright.  Either Jackson or Nicks might also have been at the top of the overall list of available free agents, though Mario Williams would have been a prime candidate for that spot, too.  Depending upon depth chart needs and specific preferences, some teams might have started their rankings with Brandon Carr, Cortland Finnegan or Matt Flynn.

The Bucs got their men on March 14, while the Bills swiped Williams away from the Texans on the 15th.  Carr went from the Chiefs to the Cowboys on the 14th, the same day Finnegan left the Titans and rejoined Jeff Fisher in St. Louis.  Flynn actually waited until the 18th to pick the Seahawks after leaving Green Bay.  Every year, the players in the most demand seem to make their decisions in the opening hours of free agency, and this time around their agents will have a three-day lead-in period to start negotiations with possible suitors.

Will Tampa once again be the destination for one or more of the top free agents in 2013?  That remains to be seen, though the Bucs definitely have salary cap space to work with if they choose to do so.  That, however, is not the question I present to you, Andrew.

In fact, don’t worry at all about which teams may be wooing the top free agents this year.  Instead of the ‘where,’ let’s debate the ‘who.’  Specifically, who is this year’s Mario Williams or Carl Nicks?  Who is going to have the most passionate suitors, and who is going to ink the biggest deal?

While we’re not worrying about what teams may come calling, let’s do keep the players’ current teams in mind.  Every year, the list of potential free agents looks a lot more appealing in January than it does in March.  Obviously, many teams do their best to re-sign their core players before free agency begins, especially the young ones who are just coming off their initial four or five-year NFL contracts.  That’s an important consideration.  For instance, you could choose Joe Flacco if you like, but I would counter that I strongly believe, one way or another, the Ravens will find a way to keep him around.

In the same vein, you can choose a pending restricted free agent if you like, but I wouldn’t recommend it.  The best players on that list almost never change teams.  So, keeping the likelihood of actually availability on March 12 in mind, answer me this:

Who will be the most coveted player on the NFL’s free agent market this year? Continue reading

Point/Counterpoint: Which team will be the Buccaneers’ toughest competition in the NFC South in 2013?

At this time, I’d like to take a moment of silence. The football season is over. Please bow your heads.

Thank you. Now, let the 2013 season begin! And what better way to kick start the offseason than speculating about how the standings will look next January? I certainly can’t think of any. The NFC South is one of the toughest divisions in football, and at least one team from the division is always a contender come January.

Last season, Atlanta made it to the NFC Championship game for the second time since the 2002 realignment of the league. That is the seventh time in those ten years that a team from the NFC South made it to that stage. In fact, the NFC South is the only division in the NFL that has had all four of its teams make it to their conference’s championship game. And, this year, the Atlanta Falcons came just a few yards short of being the final team from the division to actually make a Super Bowl appearance.

On top of this, the South is the only division in the NFC to have crowned more than one team a Super Bowl Champion in that span: the Buccaneers in 2002 and the New Orleans Saints in 2009.  In the AFC, Baltimore just joined Pittsburgh as title-winners in the North since the realignment.

The stats are there. It’s hard to deny the constant competition that the Bucs’ division puts forth every year, so I feel pretty safe in assuming that this trend will continue into 2013. But the real question is: Which teams will make their mark?

The Atlanta Falcons will be the likely favorites, having made the best run in 2012. The New Orleans Saints will be back at full strength after a season marred with, well, everything. The Carolina Panthers got hot at the end of the year, winning five of their last six. And the Buccaneers are turning some heads and fully expect to make a playoff run next fall.

So, in the road to Buccaneer redemption, a playoff berth and, hopefully, an extended chase of a second Lombardi Trophy, which NFC South team will be the Bucs’ toughest competition in 2013? Continue reading

Point/Counterpoint: What football-announcing adage would you eliminate from existence if you could?

This Sunday, Jim Nantz and Phil Simms will call the action for the last NFL game of this season.  We’ll pause here for a moment while you sob quietly for a few minutes as you contemplate six long, football-free months.

Okay, cheer up.  At least there is one very entertaining evening left in this season.  And the Nantz-Simms duo, obviously CBS’s top team, will surely do a great job of adding to the excitement.  However, one more football broadcast also means one last chance for players, coaches and analysts to dust off their most groan-inducing clichés.  Some player in the postgame locker room will probably claim his team “wanted it more,” and if there’s a halftime interview with the coach get ready for him to say, “we have to do a better job of protecting the ball.”  As for the broadcast itself, it’s pretty much just a matter of time until someone utters the words, “establish the run.”

Look, I don’t blame anybody involved.  If I was a player or coach, I’m sure I’d make use of the same “one-play-at-a-time” clichés as everybody else.  (Well, almost everybody else…I’ve noticed that, somehow, Ronde Barber never seems to fall back on the old sayings, which always makes his  interviews more entertaining.)  And there are certainly common adages by broadcasters that are common because there’s truth in him.  Games are often won and lost by turnovers, for example.

That said, everybody has at least one cliché (adage, saying, maxim…whatever you want to call it) that makes them grind their teeth.  I’m thinking of mine right now, and it’s already making me angry.  So, just for the fun of it, let’s pretend that we have the power to keep one football cliché from ever being voiced again.  What would be at the top of your list, Andrew? Continue reading

Point/Counterpoint: Should the Buccaneers go offense or defense in the first round of this year’s draft?

I’m a firm believer that if you aren’t early then you’re late. Reservations, parties, movies, whatever it may be, I’ve got no problem being the first in line. Heck, I showed up three weeks early for my own birth. So, while the 2013 NFL Draft is on April 25th (a mere 92 days from now), I’m all about getting into the art of premature speculation.

The Buccaneers finished out the year in place for the 13th overall selection in the Draft this year. So I vote that this week in Point/Counterpoint we play the role of mock draft expert.

The 2012 season definitely saw a lot of promise for the future of this young Buccaneer team. Franchise records in points and yardage, a number of single-season personal records and three Pro Bowl selections definitely show that this team has a lot of potential to compete for the NFC South title in 2013. But it also gave us a solid glimpse at the needs for this team to take the step to the next level.

We’ll have a clearer picture once we get through free agency and see what the incoming crop of rookies displays throughout the offseason, but for now, let’s take a crack at this NFL Draft question:

Should the Buccaneers devote their first-round pick to offense or defense this year?

Take it away, Scott. Continue reading

Point/Counterpoint: Can the Pro Bowl Be Saved?

On Tuesday, the Buccaneers learned that their own Vincent Jackson had been added to the Pro Bowl roster, where he joins teammate Gerald McCoy and, if things go right this coming weekend, perhaps Doug Martin as well.  Presumably, Johnny BucFan just got a few more reasons to watch the NFL’s all-star game on January 26.  But will he?

You see, we should probably call it the NFL’s beleaguered all-star game.  Right now, the Pro Bowl is about as popular as the kid who asks the teacher for extra homework at the end of class.  Last year’s game included a combined 100 points, but it wasn’t the type of fireworks display that impressed its viewership.  After all, if you’ve ever seen a football team practice you’ve seen a lot of “touchdowns,” too, but nobody is rushing to televise that.

You won’t find too many pure defenders of the Pro Bowl these days.  Even NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said this past October that the game might have to go away if it isn’t fixed.  However, there are surely those who believe it can be fixed, and that the NFL should have a fun, popular all-star event just like MLB and the NBA, and to a lesser extent the NHL.  The real question is, given the nature of the game of football, is it actually possible to play a useful all-star game that both players and fans will enjoy?

So that’s our question this week, Andrew: Can the NFL’s Pro Bowl be saved?  I’ll let you have first crack at it. Continue reading

Point/Counterpoint: How do both John Lynch and Warren Sapp make the Class of 2013?

There’s a big announcement just around the corner, and it is generating quite a bit of buzz about possible busts in the Buccaneers’ future. With Mark Dominik behind the wheel, we’re not talking about the NFL Draft, but rather the much more celebrated and sought-after type of bust: those of the bronze sort that can be found in Canton, Ohio.

Currently the field of potential Pro Football Hall of Fame 2013 inductees sits at 27, and it will shortly be chopped down to 15 semifinalists. Past Buccaneer greats John Lynch and Warren Sapp find themselves up for the honor and are widely expected to make it to the next round. Since the maximum number of modern-era selections in a single class is five, it’s time to figure out what it’s going to take for both Lynch and Sapp to make the Hall of Fame Class of 2013.

Names like Larry Allen, Charles Haley, Jonathan Ogden, Michael Strahan, Bill Parcells and a host of other greats are some of the key contenders. Since you and I are obviously pulling for both Bucs to get their busts this year, let’s not ask, “Will they make it?” Instead let’s focus on what could happen in the final closed-door voting session to make it so.

So, sir, just how do both John Lynch and Warren Sapp make the Class of 2013?

Scott Smith: You’ve framed the issue nicely, Andrew.  I could and would gladly go on at length on the reasons why I believe both Lynch and Sapp should be immediately ushered into the Hall, now that they’re eligible.  But the problem isn’t whether they’re deserving.  It’s whether or not the competition is too strong this year.

You mentioned Allen, Ogden and Strahan, all of whom are first-year-eligibles along with Lynch and Sapp, and those are usually the most worrisome contenders.  (K Morten Andersen is also on the first-year list, and while Hall voters don’t seem too keen on kickers and punters, we are talking about the NFL’s all-time leading scorer here.)  Logically, any of the other 21 finalists have already had at least one crack at it and didn’t get the necessary votes, so they wouldn’t seem like as much of a concern.  However, some of them may have just been squeezed out in particularly strong years, and others may garner support over time.  That happened last year with Chris Doleman, who finally made it in his eighth year of eligibility and second year as a finalist.  Curtis Martin and Willie Roaf also made it in as second-year eligibles in 2012.

That’s why we also have to pay attention to such candidates as Haley and Parcells, as you mentioned. I would also throw in Jerome Bettis, Will Shields, Paul Tagliabue and that three-headed receiving monster of T.C.A. BrownCarterReed.  (I guess one could also take a look at Steve Atwater, Kevin Greene, Joe Jacoby and Aeneas Williams, but I don’t see them usurping any of the above, and we have to draw the line somewhere.)

So, the task is clear: Take Allen, Ogden, Strahan, Andersen, Bettis, Shields, Tagliabue and those three receivers and eliminate all but three of them.

And here’s my take: Sorry, returning candidates, but this year’s group is just too strong for this to be the year you break through.  I think the Hall has a spot for the sixth-leading rusher in league history (Bettis), especially when you compare his numbers to Martin and add in his Super Bowl ring.  Shields, too, given his amazing 12 Pro Bowls and eight All-Pro selections.  I know many were surprised that Parcells didn’t make it last year, and I think his time is coming, but hopefully not this year.  Haley’s best number is his five Super Bowl titles, which is enough in my book.  Brown, Carter and Reed look like they will continue to split the vote for a while, but there is still hope.

But none of those guys had enough support last year to get in, and even if they’ve gained some in the interim, is it enough to blast through this year’s top-heavy class of first-year eligibles?  I don’t think so.

And that’s crucial, because I think Allen, Ogden and Strahan are locks.  Some consider Ogden the greatest left tackle of all-time, with apologies to Anthony Munoz, and there are simply no holes on his resume.  He’s got the 11 Pro Bowls and the nine All-Pro selections, he’s won a Super Bowl, he’s been the NFL’s Lineman of the Year and he had the reputation of an all-time great while he was playing.  Allen’s resume is nearly identical, and he was a member of the All-Decade Teams for both the 1990s and the 2000s.  How could that not be a Hall of Famer.  And if we think Sapp is a Hall of Famer, it’s hard to argue against Strahan, who has an almost identical list of accomplishments (Pro Bowls, All-Pros, Defensive Player of the Year, Super Bowl ring) plus the NFL’s single-season record for sacks (even if you don’t like the way he got it).

I also think Andersen will eventually find his way into the Hall of Fame.  True, there’s only three kickers or punters in Canton so far, and only one who was exclusively a kicker in Jan Stenerud (George Blanda played QB; Lou Groza played T).  But there’s going to be another one eventually, and wouldn’t you start with the all-time scoring leader?  I just don’t think it will be this year.

So there’s how the two Bucs go in together: Your final class is Warren Sapp, John Lynch, Larry Allen, Jonathan Ogden and Michael Strahan.

(By the way, for this to work, voters have to determine that Lynch was the superior player to Atwater in the end, and it’s close.  Atwater had eight Pro Bowls to Lynch’s nine, two All-Pros to Lynch’s four, two Super Bowls to Lynch’s one.  They both had standout reputations as punishing hitters; Atwater has an all-decade team to his name but Lynch has a defensive back of the year award.  It’s close, but I think Lynch gets the nod because he was such a key figure on a defense that changed the NFL.)

Andrew Norton: As deserving as most of the players on the list of 27 are, you’ve narrowed things down quite nicely and I have to agree with you for the most part on your whittled-down list.

As much as I would love to see the NFL’s all-time leading scorer make the top five, I think it is still out of reach for the time being. With the ever-increasing value of statistics in the NFL, and the fact that the general public now recognizes the majority of kickers thanks to the prevalence of fantasy football, I do see him getting in in the near future, just not in a year as stacked as this one.

That being said, I think that when the five inductees are announced there will be massive cheering heard in Tampa Bay and Dallas. My five selections: Warren Sapp, John Lynch, Larry Allen, Bill Parcells and Charles Haley.

Like you, I think that Larry Allen makes the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Already a member of the Cowboys Ring of Honor (which holds 12 Hall of Famers and three past nominees), Allen is largely heralded as one of the best offensive linemen to ever play the game. In 14 years, he made 11 Pro Bowls, was an All-Pro seven times, member of two All-Decade Teams and Super Bowl Champion.

Now, the prospect of why Larry Allen makes it is my main argument as to why Jonathan Ogden does not. It’s not especially often that two people from the same position make the Hall of Fame in the same class. The last time two offensive linemen made it in one year was 2007, but only one of them was a modern-era player. The last time two modern-era offensive linemen have made it together was 2001. That said, Ogden is massively worthy of the title, but I feel that with such a deep field only one offensive lineman makes it and Allen’s credentials give him the edge.

In his place I put Bill Parcells. Last year was his first year of eligibility and I believe that many would argue that he should have made it as a first-ballot inductee. In my mind, he is a shoo-in. He won two Super Bowls and took four different teams to the playoffs. If that isn’t impressive enough, look at the teams that he turned around and made contenders. The Giants were 3-12-1 before he took them to the playoffs. It took him two years to turn around the Patriots and bring them to Super Bowl XXXI. He took over a 1-15 Jets team and got them to 9-7 a year later and 12-4 the year after that. NFL Coach of the Year two times, 183 total wins. I like him.

Finally, I will give Charles Haley the slight edge over Michael Strahan. Haley gets my pick because he has five Super Bowl rings. And its not just that he has them, it is that he was a pivotal player on each of those Championship teams. He was the NFC Defensive Player of the Year twice, five-time Pro Bowler, seamlessly transitioned from linebacker to defensive end, recorded double-digit sacks in a season six times and was a part of a division winning team in 10 of his 12 seasons.

Strahan is popular, likeable and very public, and that is before mentioning his record of sack in the season. (And since you mentioned it, no, I do not like how he got there.) Being that Charles Haley (and Kevin Greene) are both in contention as well, I think that Strahan falls short of the two.

Did I mention Haley’s five Super Bowl rings?

Scott Smith: Yes, you did.  You couldn’t have emphasized those five rings more if you had painted them colors and arranged them into the Olympics logo.  Of course, neither that stunt nor your above arguments would make me budge from Ogden and Strahan.

You mentioned the “last time” that two offensive linemen got into the Hall in the same year as 2001 (as if that is unfathomable eons ago…ooh, who can remember ALL THE WAY BACK to those murky Y2K days), but didn’t say who they were.  So I will: Mike Munchak and Ron Yary.  (Of course, it also happened just three years before that, too, with Anthony Munoz and Dwight Stephenson, but who’s counting?)  Do you think that’s maybe because…oh, I don’t know…that’s the last time that a single class had two candidates as mind-numbingly worthy as the Allen-Ogden combo.

Your two connected reasons for removing Ogden, as I see them, were that, 1) No way two OL get in at the same time (yeah, right); and, 2) Allen’s credentials are better than Ogden’s.  Of course, you didn’t bother to say WHY you chose Allen over Ogden, so I’ll just assume it’s because you prefer the player with the same number of Pro Bowl bids and Super Bowl rings but fewer All-Pro selections.  Hey, to each his own.  I tend to prefer $20 bills to 19 singles, but that’s just me.

All of that said, I would definitely agree that Parcells and Haley are the two people I most worry about busting up my plan.  I can’t find fault with any of your supporting arguments for those two, and I’m truly surprised they’re not already in.

Fortunately for me, you conveniently paired up our different choices as such: Parcells over Ogden and Haley over Strahan.  So, while I am surprised Parcells didn’t get in last year and the fact that he’s now a second-year candidate (three second-year finalists got in last year) makes him more dangerous, I think I’ve sufficiently argued for Ogden.  Can’t have Parcells if you don’t bump Ogden, so no Parcells.

So now it’s Strahan versus Haley.  And here’s the strange thing about Haley, despite all of your jewelry-based points above: He’s been available as a candidate since 2005.  He was a semifinalist in ’05 but didn’t get enough support to make the list of 15 finalists until 2010 (he has been there four straight years now).  Heck, he didn’t even make the semifinalist list in 2006 before reappearing in 2007.  That’s kinda strange, huh?  Clearly, there is something holding some of these voters back…and remember, that group of voters doesn’t turn over very rapidly.

Still, let’s compare the two pass-rushers.  Yes, Haley has him on oversized diamond rings, five to one (Strahan does have one other SB appearance).  That’s not nothing.  It’s significant.  But does it make up for the fact that Strahan has 141.5 sacks to Haley’s 100.5?  Or that Strahan was once named the league’s Defensive Player of the Year, an honor that escaped Haley (but not Sapp, by the way)?  Or that Strahan holds one of the most prestigious single-season records in the history of the game (22.5 sacks)?  Or that he was considered equally dominant against the run (in fact, a 2004 Football Outsiders post called him one of the best five two-way ends EVER).  Correct me if I’m wrong (that would be a first) but I don’t believe Haley had anywhere near the same reputation as a run-stopper.

Charles Haley’s five Super Bowl rings are a unique accomplishment and, to my mind, a ticket to the Hall of Fame, when combined with his 100 sacks.  Eventually.  I just don’t agree that you can bump Strahan to make room for him, so I think you need to go back to the drawing board.  And this time, stop drawing stars all over it.

Andrew Norton: I’m a little offended. You were so civil in your first discussion, but that counterargument seems a little hostile. I do completely believe that Jonathan Ogden does have a place in the Hall of Fame, just not this class. I apologize, as it seems to have put quite a bee in your bonnet.

And since you had so much fun with my first fun fact about the number of offensive linemen per class, I feel that I should follow that up with an even more fun fact making your predictions even more unlikely. The last time that three first-ballot players made it in a single class is 2006 with Troy Aikman, Warren Moon and Reggie White. No class since 1970 has had more than three. And all five of yours, sir, are in their first year of eligibility.

And to add one more note for each of my selections:

Larry Allen played multiple positions, and he did clear holes for that Emmitt Smith character who I’ve read used to be pretty good.

Bill Parcells has more wins than 15 of the 21 coaches in the Hall of Fame and as many or more playoff wins as 17 of them.

Charles Haley has been an available candidate since 2005, but when it comes to HoF voting, he is essentially the defensive version of Art Monk who was voted in on his eighth year of eligibility. He’s overdue, and I think that if Allen makes it, they have to also put in Haley. Also, FIVE Super Bowl rings. He has been on 10.9% of all Super Bowl winning teams. As a starter and linchpin. Come on.

For the record, I do have Jonathan Ogden next on my radar, but Cris Carter and Jerome Bettis higher than Strahan.

In closing though, I think we should really bring things home and talk about who we have in common and who everyone in Tampa Bay will be pulling for: Warren Sapp and John Lynch.

Both were the foundation of the Super Bowl Championship team, one of the NFL’s best defenses in history.

Warren Sapp wasn’t just one of the dominant defensive tackles, he was the dominant defensive tackle of his era. With 96.5 total sacks, seven Pro Bowls, four first-team All-Pros, a Defensive Player of the Year award and member of two All-Decade teams, it is hard to argue that he misses out as a first-year owner of the yellow jacket. And, honestly, who could possibly give a better speech?

John Lynch made nine Pro Bowls and was an All-Pro selection four times, first-team twice. He is on nearly every list of the hardest hitters in the history of the NFL. He piled up 13 sacks, 26 interceptions, 16 forced fumbles and 740 tackles in his 191-game career and is one of the most popular players ever to play his position.

We’ll know in the week leading up to the Super Bowl which ones come out on top. Hopefully you’re in a better mood by then.

Point/Counterpoint: Who are the Buccaneers’ offensive and defensive MVPs in 2012?

Well, we’re going to find out about the Pro Bowl later on Wednesday, and we all hope there are a couple Buccaneers in the mix.  After the season, we should see Doug Martin and Lavonte David at least in the running for Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year, respectively.  Hall of Fame voting will continue, too, and we’ll have our fingers crossed for John Lynch and Warren Sapp in the Class of 2013.

There is at least one honor that we know will go to a Buccaneer, however, and that would be the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ MVP for the 2012 season.  If you find that logic impressive, hang on, because we’re just getting started.

That’s because I propose this topic to be our weekly Point/Counterpoint dust-up, Andrew: Who is the team’s Most Valuable Player this year?  Actually, to make it a little more fun and give us a chance to involve a few more deserving players, let’s take a page from the rookie awards and name both an Offensive and a Defensive MVP? Continue reading

Point/Counterpoint: What is the ideal way to seed NFL playoff teams?

Last week, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suggested that the NFL would consider expanding the playoffs from the current field of 12 teams to either 14 or 16. While neither of us wanted to take the “pro” side on that particular proposal, the topic did get the wheels turning in our heads for a related point/counterpoint discussion.

Even if you are not a proponent of playoff expansion, it’s clear that there is room for tweaking the set-up within the current six-teams-per-conference format.  For instance, should division winners automatically get higher seeds than Wild Card teams, regardless of record?  Or, as a more radical thought, should division winners even get an automatic playoff berth if their records are inferior to at least six other teams?  Think of the 2010 Seahawks, invited onto the dance floor with a 7-9 record while your 10-6 Buccaneers watched from the punch bowl, as a recent example.

That’s our debate, then: Should the NFL reconfigure the way it chooses and seeds its playoff teams, basing it more on record and less on divisional superiority?

You have the floor first, Scott (but not the dance floor…no one wants to see that).

Scott Smith: I have to admit up front that I generally default to being a traditionalist when it comes to talk of changing the sports I love.  Sometimes I realize later that I was being too stodgy and that change can be good.  The Wild Card in baseball is a good example.  I hated it (HATED IT) when it was introduced in 1995, but I can now admit that it has been a very good thing for the game.  That said, I still hate that they added a second Wild Card this past year and created that silly one-game playoff thing.  You’ll still never get me onboard with interleague play, however.

So, I’ll admit up front that I could feel differently in five or 10 years if a new system were introduced, but I’m still going to have to come down on the side of the status quo here.  I understand that people get upset when supposedly inferior teams are given an advantage (or even an invite) over supposedly superior teams, but that’s just part of the system.  Winning your division SHOULD count for something.  Something important.

Let’s just cut to the chase: The only time this argument comes up is in strange seasons like 2010, which you referenced above.  Everyone thought it was pretty ridiculous that the 11-5 Saints had to play on the road against the 7-9 Seahawks.  Seattle was seen as a fraud, only in the postseason because the entire NFC West happened to collapse in the same year.  I could go the easy route and point out that the Seahawks shocked everyone by beating the Saints and proving their worthiness, but I suppose that would just lead to the counterargument that they wouldn’t have won without home field advantage.

My argument is more basic than that.  When you put teams into a division and then tell them their first goal – as every coach in the league will tell you – is to win that division, then it HAS to count for something when they do so.  Seattle did its job during the regular season, perhaps not as impressively as you would have liked them to, but they did it.  They deserve the rewards.  Their punishment for only having a 7-9 record, unlike the 13-3 Falcons or 11-5 Bears, was drawing a tough Wild Card matchup and not getting a first-round bye.  There are factors built into the current system that do give teams that win more games an advantage, as they should.  Seattle didn’t do well enough in 2010 to get any of those advantages, but they did do well enough to punch their ticket to the dance.

Besides, we shouldn’t get too worked up about seeding, anyway.  I agree that the first-round bye is a big advantage, as it should be, but otherwise recent history suggests that the lower seeds aren’t that big of a disadvantage.  After all, it was Green Bay who won those 2010 playoffs after coming in as the sixth and final seed (beating out the Bucs on a fifth-level tiebreaker).  The Giants won their last two championships as fifth and fourth seeds in 2007 and 2011, respectively.  Pittsburgh came in as the six and won three road games to make it to the Super Bowl after the 2005, coincidentally then beating Seattle.

Considering my feelings as described above, it’s probably unnecessary for me to argue the part about not even letting a division winner into the playoffs if there are six teams with better records.  If you have an argument to support that, I’ll respond in my rebuttal.

So, take it away, Andrew. The band is playing your song now.

Andrew Norton: While I’m not particularly a fan of change myself, I do view it as often necessary. The old NFL overtime sudden death rule was fine by me, but where is the fun in watching a team drive 50 yards for a field goal? I welcomed that change. It’s confusing, but makes teams go for the touchdown rather than settling for an easy three when within range. And, hello, NCAA football playoff system. Yes, please.

So a new seeding system for the NFL is something that I would appreciate. And, honestly, I think I can make a case for it being necessary. I agree with you that the 2010 Seattle Seahawks winning the NFC West at 7-9 is hands-down the most logical argument that I can make. But where I disagree is the part where you refer to it as a “strange season.” Teams with higher records getting nudged from the playoffs happens quite often. In fact, the parity of this season where we might actually see the 12 best records make the playoffs should be counted as the “strange” one.

Last year, in the AFC, the Tennessee Titans watched the playoffs from the couch with their 9-7 record. Who did they get to watch in the playoffs? The 8-8 Denver Broncos who got in by winning their division. That division win also gave them the home field advantage against the 12-4 Pittsburgh Steelers, the team that they memorably knocked out in the first round.

In 2008, we again see the AFC West (for real, Western divisions, time to shape up), where San Diego Chargers limped into the playoffs, leaving the 11-5 New England Patriots grumpily watching from home. In fact, since the divisions were restructured in 2002, we see six different instances of teams with better records than a division winner getting ousted from the playoffs.

I think that winning the most games as you can and being a top six team in your conference should be the goal that teams reach for, rather than just shooting to be the best of four.

And really, the only argument that I should need here is that 2010 Seahawk team. With a losing record, they made the playoffs while two teams were out despite 10-win seasons. And, for the record, both the New York Giants and Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated Seattle that season.

So, yes, the playoffs should be strictly by record. You can keep divisions in play, they will support the rivalries that already exist and they will keep scheduling in order. And the two best records in each conference can still have first-round byes. But, come on, the rest of the field needs to be the best teams in the NFL. They deserve it and the fans deserve it.

What is it that they say in those dance movies? “You got served?” Yeah. I think that’s it.

Scott Smith: You mean those dance movies where eight people make up, on the spot, complicated routines that all of them instantly know?  It figures you would reference that.  In real life, a dance-off would be completely chaotic, but still a lot of fun to watch.  You know, kind of like a real sports season.

I don’t cry for that 9-7 Titans team sitting out while the 8-8 Broncos play on because, hey, things like this happen in sports.  It’s fun!  The Broncos squeaking in was fun, especially when they upset the Steelers.  I think that game and the 7-9 Seahawks upsetting the Saints underscores the fact that the NFL is so competitive that the difference between an 8-8 team and an 11-5 team isn’t always as big as it seems.  And certainly the difference between an 8-8 team and a 9-7 team could be as little as one lucky bounce in any given week during the season.  Those Broncos and those Seahawks were good enough, and they got a chance to prove it by doing what the system asks them to do: Win their division.

So you’re new seeding system is a response to six instances in 11 years (because it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen this year) in which a team with an inferior overall record made it in over a team with a superior record?  About once every two years, and we’re counting instances such as that 8-8 Broncos/9-7 Titans situation?  Gee, get me a tissue.  I’m sobbing over all the injustice here.

You clearly knew that your argument essentially calls for two big conferences rather than separate divisions, because you validated the continued existence of divisions for the purposes of rivalries and ease of scheduling (it’s admirable how much you care about the amount of hours NFL schedulers have to put in).  Besides being completely irrelevant (like the Cowboys and Redskins would stop hating each other if they didn’t have that division bond), it’s also patently unfair.  You’re saying that winning a division won’t matter, but certain teams still have to play certain other teams twice every year.  In a year where, say, the NFC East is strong and the NFC West is weak, how is it fair to the East teams to have an inherently harder schedule than the West teams when the only goal is to rack up the most wins.

Dance your way out of that won, Andrew.

Andrew Norton: I think I’m allowed at least a small window of leniency to allow for a bit of growing pains in my newly hatched playoff idea. We can’t all stand behind the well-thought-out “Meh, leave it the same” argument that you have so artfully crafted.

Add a London team, add a Los Angeles team. Get rid of the divisions. Each team plays 16 games, one against every single team in its conference. How you like those moves?

I kid. This is roughly three digits above my pay grade. All that I can comfortably say is that it is unfair for a team that has proven itself to be one of the top six in its conference to not make the playoffs to a team that hasn’t proven themselves.

You are quick to point out the 8-8 team going over the 9-7 team. Still, I do believe that is an injustice. You say that the chaos is part of the sport. Well, it was that self same chaos that led to one team getting a better record than the other. So why wouldn’t that be rewarded?

You are also forgetting to mention the larger margins, a la the 10-6 Giants and Buccaneers losing out to the 7-9 Seahawks, or the 8-8 Chargers making it over the 11-5 New England Patriots. And again, I stress both the Giants and Buccaneers defeated the Seahawks during the regular season!

It seems simple enough to me. There are 12 teams in the playoffs. They should be the 12 best teams. Period. Dance reference.