- The Washington Times - Friday, January 7, 2005

How can a playoff system be such a bad idea for college football and such a great idea for the NFL?

Imagine if the NFL were set up like college football, where the top teams played in one bowl game with no drama or resolution leading to a championship? How stinking boring would that be?

Fortunately, the NFL is not ruled by bowl committees and alumni. It is ruled by television and ratings and money, and all of those masters are best served by a playoff system that eventually crowns a champion.

Some greed is bad, but some greed is good as well.

There is no better time to be a sports fan than the NFL postseason. The baseball playoffs have their own unique pace and drama, which, when you have a postseason like the Boston Red Sox did in 2004, is as good as it gets. And March Madness gets the juices flowing again as spring arrives.

But the NFL playoffs, which begin this weekend, require very little commitment for the payoff. The best teams in the league are playing football on Saturday and football on Sunday. The games don’t last until 1 a.m. on weeknights, and you don’t need a bracket to follow all the teams involved.

St. Louis at Seattle tomorrow at 4:30 p.m. The New York Jets at San Diego at 8 p.m. On Sunday, Denver at Indianapolis at 1 p.m., and Minnesota at Green Bay at 4:30 p.m.

The best of two generations of quarterbacks will be there for us to see, historic players Peyton Manning and Brett Favre.

The best of two generations of running backs will be facing each other, LaDainian Tomlinson in San Diego and Curtis Martin for the Jets. (I don’t know what is more amazing about Martin — that at an age, 31, when many running backs are on the downward slide, he led the NFL in rushing, or that one of the best backs of his time, playing in the biggest media market in the country, has such a low profile. Talk about the exception to the rule.)

Of course, it’s not all glory. The Rams-Seahawks game, if it were a college bowl, might qualify as the Lompoc Frozen Custard Bowl.

There isn’t a lot to look forward to in that game — unless, of course Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander comes within one yard of setting a playoff game rushing record on the last play from scrimmage, and Seattle coach Mike Holmgren calls a quarterback sneak. Then we could watch a bona fide coach-player brawl right out in the open, unlike the one that nearly happened behind closed doors between the opposing coach tomorrow, the Rams’ Mike Martz, and injured lineman Kyle Turley earlier this season.

ABC would get a lot more people willing to sit through the Rams-Seahawks game if they knew Turley was going to make an appearance and slap Martz around a little.

On Sunday, for those who crave more than displays of football talent, the attraction will be at what point wide receiver Randy Moss leaves the field when his Vikings are losing to the Packers. Or will center Matt Birk, who said if it happens again, “There might be some problems,” call him out on the field if he does his patented Moss pout — and he will be pouting, since the Packers will be winning.

The subplot of the Denver-Indianapolis game will be the notion that the Broncos’ defense thinks the Colts are soft, and, led by John Lynch ($75,000 lighter after his helmet-to-helmet hit on Colts tight end Dallas Clark last week), whether the Broncos will try to intimidate the Colts receivers.

We’ll have to wait a week to see that in the NFC when the Eagles, led by Todd “I’d rather be playing flag football” Pinkston, will be targeted by whoever their opponent is, trying to replicate the beatdown the Panthers gave the Terrell Owens-less Philadelphia receivers last year.

Speaking of the NFC, aren’t there at least four AFC teams — the Steelers, Patriots, Chargers and Colts — that appear better than any team coming out of the NFC? Doesn’t bode well for the Super Bowl, does it.

Meanwhile, Redskins fans who didn’t suffer enough through the Joe Gibbs disappointment this past season can watch the former Redskins coach who had the most success in Washington of any coach that owner Danny “Paul Bunyan” Snyder has hired so far guide the Chargers to the Super Bowl. We know the Patriots, Steelers and Colts, but people may not realize how good Marty Schottenheimer’s 12-4 San Diego Chargers are. They may wind up being the biggest story of the NFL playoffs — unless there is a Kyle Turley-Mike Martz Pennsylvania Dutch chain match.

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