January has arrived and with it the return of playoff football. The weekend's festivities kick off with the defending champion New Orleans Saints in Seattle to take on a team that Ohio State's president might describe as the Little Sisters of the Poor in terms of NFL playoff teams.
The Seahawks went 7-9 in the regular season. The Saints 12-4. And yes the game is in the Pacific Northwest because Seattle won the NFC West while New Orleans finishes second in their division. In fact, Seattle finished behind a few other teams that did not make the playoffs, such as Tampa Bay and the New York Giants. And while fans in those markets may cry foul, I am staunchly in favor of keeping things as is.
Radicals might want to abolish division and even the conferences and just take the league's top 12 teams, but that would be a mistake. Not only does winning your division need to mean something, but scrambling the NFL's playoff format is not the right answer. There is no need to try to fix a system that isn't as broken as people are making it out to be. This isn't the BCS.
Another new wrinkle to the NFL playoffs this year are the adjusted overtime rules. In the past a team could receive the opening kickoff of overtime, make 2-3 first downs, and kick a long field goal to win while the other team never sniffs the ball. Now the league has adopted rules that say a team must score a TD to end overtime within the first two possessions essentially. So if a team kicks a field goal on the first possession, the other team can kick a FG to force the start of "sudden death" or can score a TD for the victory.
The purpose of this is to make sure a coin toss doesn't determine the overtime winners, but if you looks at the evidence of overtime playoff games in the past, the percentage of teams who lose and never touch the ball are not overwhelming. However the NFL is trying to give each team a chance to touch the ball regardless of what past stats indicate. And in the playoffs, unlike the regular season, the constraints of jamming a game into a hard 3-hour block aren't as demanding.
Regardless, it should be a great NFL postseason. Frankly, I don't think Seattle will win, as much as I'd like them to, but they will play a much closer game with New Orleans than people are expecting. Granted, I haven't been much of a fan of seeing playoff games in Seattle (not since that dropped field goal by Tony Romo ended the Bill Parcells tensure in Dallas ... now I'm sad).