NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has been searching for a way to persuade teams that have locked up postseason berths to quit treating the end of the regular season like the beginning of the preseason. The first effort apparently will involve playing intradivision games only during the final two weeks of the campaign.
Though we generally agree with the Commissioner’s advice that perfect should never get in the way of better, this approach is neither perfect nor better.
In 2009, the Colts deliberately eased up in the final two weeks when facing the Jets and the Bills. Would the Colts have tried any harder if they had closed with the Texans and the Titans?
But what if the Colts were playing the Titans, and the Titans needed a win to get into the playoffs? In the case, the Colts would surely try to knock their division rival out of the postseason, right?
That precise scenario arose in 2007, with the Titans requiring a win (and the Browns needing them to lose) in the final contest of the regular season. The Colts could not have improved their postseason positioning with a win, so they called off the dogs. And they were happy to do it.
“I have to congratulate the Titans and I think it is a feather in the cap
of our division to get three teams in the playoffs,” Colts coach Tony Dungy said after the game.
The prime-time season-ender even featured some added drama regarding the decision of the Colts not to use late time outs to force Tennessee to punt while holding a six-point lead. Titans quarterback Kerry Collins told WFAN radio in New York that Dungy and Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher had “some communication” in this regard.
So while facing a division rival might prompt a team that has nothing to lose to give a little extra while otherwise playing out the string, it will do nothing to coax better effort from a team that has everything to lose and nothing to gain in the final weeks of the regular season.