This letter is all the more satisfying now, after the Seahawks won that game.
Enjoy. (And don't get all wound up - it's only an opinion piece. I can do that.)
So you think your team deserved Seattle's playoff slot, eh? Sitting pretty in its 10-6 slot, second in its pampered division, complaining because a rebuilding 7-9 team "shoved" you out of the playoffs after freely serving as its doormat earlier in the regular season? You have something to say about how the NFL playoff system works, and how it seems to be rewarding bad teams in bad divisions and leaving better teams out in the cold?
I have two responses to this. First, let us examine exactly why the NFL established this playoff system. Have you ever wondered why the NFL is divided into divisions in the first place?
To sum it up in one word: rivalries. Time and again, the biggest NFL events have been between old and established foes. The Steelers and the Ravens. The Packers and the Bears. Any two teams in the NFC East or the AFC West. Those are the headliners. Those are the big crowd-pleasers. Memory and history guide the NFL, imprinted hatred of buried games long-forgotten by most reasonable people. We Seahawks fans will still be rooting for the weekly destruction of the Steelers when that baby born two minutes ago finds his way into the NFL as a young man. Fans remember, and fans seek vengeance.
The NFL understands the power of rivalry, and has developed a system to promote it: division-based playoff seeding. Division rivalries comprise more games out of the regular season (six) than of any other division a team faces. Did it never occur to you that that might not be a random decision? Fewer people about Raiders at Panthers. Raiders at Broncos? Now we're cookin'. The system is designed to emphasize division wins, because that's what gets people excited.
For all of us who gripe about the NFL's apparent dunderheadedness in every imaginable matter from officiating to team names, there really is a devious method to their madness here. There are decades of experience informing the league's decisions. In this matter, they really do know and care what the fans want.
But what would be the point of emphasizing division hostilities if there were no reward to winning your division? "Well, play each team in your division twice, but it's actually just as easy to get into the playoffs by ignoring your division entirely and focusing on other games." Yeah, that'd make sense. Way to suck all the energy out of division contests. Instead, to actually motivate teams to put all their effort into division games, an impetus is given: "Win the division, and you're in." This is done by 1) increasing the number of division games, 2) handing a playoff spot to the division winner, and 3) using division record as a foremost tiebreaker. Otherwise, your precious, time-honored, emotion-fueled rivalries become about as important as Seahawks vs. Chiefs: "Ehh, they're in the other conference. It's a loseable game."
But wait...there's also a certain thing called parity built into the schedule: an attempt to make cycling teams through the playoffs a little easier, inject some freshness into an otherwise predictable schedule. Teams face their division rivals, at a consistent weight - regardless of whatever misfortunes befell those opponents - but otherwise, it's rotating division foes within and outside the conference. It's mixed up, though consistently so. Controlled circumstance holds a lot of stock in the NFL's future.
There isn't a lot that the Seahawks could do about their schedule. Placing better within the division last year would have changed exactly two of their sixteen opponents this year. We, and every other team, were dealt the hand we were dealt, and the mantra of the athlete states that you run the race that you're assigned, instead of complaining about how outside, uncontrollable circumstances affect you.
You know where I'm going with this. It is not the Seahawks' fault that the NFC West's accrued years of unlucky draft decisions chose this year to finally catch up with it. It's not the Seahawks' fault that Arizona drafted Matt Leinart. It's not the Seahawks' fault that Alex Smith busted. It's not the Seahawks' fault that the Rams spent years drafting high hoping to cover up the struggles of Marc Bulger and have since developed allergies to hiring competent receivers for itself. We ran the race we were assigned, buckled down without complaint, in a system intentionally and intelligently designed to emphasize historic rivalries, and we came out on top.
And the Giants didn't.
This is my second response. Giants fans - Seattle is not a better team than the Giants and I fully acknowledge that. But would you like to know the real reason the Giants spent January sitting at home? It had nothing to do with the Seahawks, and it had nothing to do with the playoff system being broken.
They spent January at home because they lost to the Eagles. Twice. I still laugh my arse off at the memory of your special teams flailing on the turf like drunken meerkats while your punter gifted Desean Jackson with a last-second return TD.
And 130 rushing yards allowed to Michael Vick? Were they trying to hand the guy the Comeback POY award? I thought they had a pass rush.
I guess not - they couldn't sack Jon Kitna to save their lives. Hell, they gave him 327 passing yards on 13 completions. And their only interception of Kitna came from a former Seahawk.
And you think the Seahawks are giving you trouble? Were the Giants so busy watching Seahawks games that they forgot to watch tape on Chris Johnson? Perhaps you hoped we weren't looking when New York lost 29-10 to the Titans. Yeah, those same guys who are now picking at the #8 spot that the Seahawks held until they "stole your playoff spot".
You talk about Seattle's embarrassments? Your team's 10-6 consisted of wins over Carolina, Chicago, Houston, Detroit, Dallas, Jacksonville, Minnesota, and Washington twice. That's a schedule that's easier than Seattle's:
|Ranking||Team||Strength of Schedule|
|29||New York Giants||.453|
Congratulations, Meadowheads - you couldn't hack it in your own respectable division, but at least you managed to beat up a few more bottom-dwellers than the Seahawks did.
If Jack Sparrow was watching Desean's punt return, he'd have said, "If you were looking for the opportune moment, that was it." Your team was weighed, measured, and found wanting. The writing on the wall is clear.
Hey wait...just a second. What's this? A Week 16 loss to Green Bay? 45-17? Seriously? Your team had in its hands an opportunity to earn a playoff seed...even against a non-division opponent? And instead of seizing the day, they still allowed 404 yards and four TD's to Aaron Rodgers. And then people get on the Internet and complain to Seahawks fans about our playoff kleptomania?
If that's how your team handles playoff-quality opponents, I'm starting to think they didn't deserve the playoffs anyway. My God, to listen to some of you people, you'd think the Giants had won the Super Bowl before the playoffs even began. News flash: 10-6 doesn't impress anyone worth impressing. You aren't the damn Patriots. 10-6 could mean anything. 10-6 is the record Seattle had when it marched into Green Bay three years ago and had its defense brutally exposed as the pretender it was. One properly handled punt, and the Giants are 11-5 and leaving Seattle fans alone.
So don't come to me flaunting your 41-7 win over the Seahawks as if it reflects your entire season. One game does not trump your overall record, and even your record doesn't decide who you are. How you handle your fate decides who you are. That's a truism of human competition, explicitly applied to the NFL, and guess what? Your team didn't come through. They didn't come through. Any given Sunday came and they lost to the Titans. They had their shot, they should have been able to deal, and they didn't. They're just another mediocre, inconsistent, unfathomable enigma of a team that "deserved" the playoffs through bad opponents, instead of good ones like the eventual Super Bowl teams. In the words of William Munny, "'deserve''s got nothin' to do with it."*
So next time, tell your team to do their job and take care of business in their own house. Don't complain to the Seahawks, don't complain to me as their fan, and don't complain to the NFL. Complain to your punter.
* Shoutout to Sadhappy of Seahawks.net for that small, succulent saying.