Division games in Week 16 and 17 won't guarantee better effort

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?

No way.

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? 

Wrong.

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.

46 responses to “Division games in Week 16 and 17 won't guarantee better effort

  1. They need to do something.
    Anything. People paying regular season prices deserve an actual regular season game.

  2. It also creates more back to back week 17/Wildcard Weekend rematches. Which IMO are boring.

  3. Money talks bullshit walks. If you want to give players and teams an incentive to win in the final weeks of the season attach a FINANCIAL benefit to winning.

  4. I happy that the Commish recognizes the situation and is trying to fix it (even if it won’t necessarily work) but I kinda feel like if you’ve won enough games earlier in the season to not HAVE to risk it all at the end of the season then so be it. I kinda wish my Pats would have done that this year….

  5. “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.”
    Only in your opinion. So don’t state it as if it’s a fact. The Colts only play a 13 game schedule because that’s all they have to play. They are the one exception to the whole league.

  6. And yet, Polian’s lie about giving the best effort against Jacksonville to ensure two regular season records that had, in fact, been achieved the prior week flies in the face of your argument here: there was nothing to be gained by beating Jacksonville, yet the Colts went all out to beat them. Your logic = Fail.

  7. Of course, it won’t guarantee better effort. But it should produce more games where both teams are playing to win.
    If Team A has a one-game lead on Team B going into a Week 17 matchup, both teams are obviously going to play for victory. And if all Week 16 and 17 games are intradivisional, there’s going to be a greater likelihood of these sorts of matchups being scheduled.
    I think that’s the idea, not to “guarantee better effort” in every Week 16 and 17 game, which isn’t possible.

  8. terrible article. of course you are always going to have circumstances where a team has a place locked anyways. but you are definitely going to have more competition. i could only imagine the ravens/steelers/bengals playing each other the last 2 weeks last season. that woulda been nuts.

  9. As part of this new line of thinking, Ben Rapenstein will be asked to limit himself to molesting women in Cincinnati, Baltimore and Cleveland during the last two weeks of the season.

  10. April 5th, the NFL Network has time blocked off for an NFL Special in the early afternoon. Makes sense as ESPN wont be able to get into the action as they are commited to MLB Opening Day. But it could just be BS and they could continue dragging the schedule release through the sand. Fingers crossed!

  11. I haven’t done the math, but my gut feeling is that this will not make a difference in the top divisions that have a wild card team, but make itmore exciting in the other divisions. So this may not help with the “Colts problem” but may help improve the schedule.

  12. Division games in Week 16 and 17 won’t guarantee better effort
    *********************************
    As my mom once said to me, “No sh*t, Dick Tracy!” 🙂

  13. I think the point of saving the division games for the last two weeks is that a team might not have the division locked up as fast because division games give you a bigger swing in gaining a full game as opposed to just half a game or no gain at all if both teams beat out-of-division opponents.
    Obviously, if only one team in the division is in contention for playoffs… then opponents aren’t going to matter.
    Way to completely ignore why this does make SOME improvement.
    I find it hilarious that someone so happy for an overtime change that makes no difference but swears it does… doesn’t see how this change lessens the chance(no matter how minute) of games being meaningless in week 16 and 17.

  14. We know it wont fix evergame but it will leave more tiebreakers (head-to-head/division/conference) for a dal/was game as opposed to a ten/was game.

  15. It’s not perfect but it’s something at least, I would think if EVERY team is playing divisional games then there is more of a chance at Division and Conference tiebreakers & such being in play.
    Any better ideas?

  16. Re: “….. 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. .. ”

    Exactly! AND with those same pair of teams it also happened the very next season in 2008 when that year it was Tennesse who had clinched the AFC #1 seed in Week 16, went into the tank for the Week 17 game with the Colts.

  17. This is a non-issue with no solution. If your team wins enough games before week 16 to lock up the #1 seed, then you DESERVE to pull your starters. What are you going to do? Dictate that no team can lock up good playoff position before mid-December? I’d love to hear how the NFL would do that.
    No matter what they do, it would be a situation where the cure is worse than the disease.

  18. As much as I hated the Colts for letting the Titans win that game, it was the Browns’ own fault in the end. If we’d beaten a horrible Cincy team the week before we’d have clinched a playoff spot. DA chokes and throws 4 horrendous picks and that’s that. Have fun with him Arizona.

  19. maybe someone should go back and look at what happened last year in 2009….
    week 17 games: 6 divisional, 8 conference, 2 inter-conference
    week 16 games: 5 div, 9 conf, 2 inter-conf
    week 11 games: 6 div, 8 conf, 2 inter-conf
    week 2 games: 7 div, 5 conf, 4 inter-conf
    week 1 games: 7 div, 7 conf, 2 inter-conf
    in 2008
    week 17 games: 9 div, 5 conf, 2 inter-conf
    week 16 games: 4 div, 8 conf, 4 inter-conf
    so it looks like the NFL wants to go back to what it did 2008 and get some 9 divisional games on the last week of the year… and looking at the standings – only 2 divisions had teams with double-digit wins – cowboys & eagles, vikings & packers.
    besides, how many big games can be on TV at given time… one.

  20. It weighs more heavily on there being better matchups in week 16 and 17 being division matchups than any other matchups. Plain and simple!!!

  21. Unless you have a crystal ball, there’s NO way to be 100% certain two teams with something to play for will be matched up at the end of the season. If you kicked ass all season, you’ve earned the right to take the last one or two games off. If you don’t want to watch a noncompetitive game. DON’T BUY THE F@CKING TICKET.

  22. Good article, this is just another instance of Goodell showing that he isn’t qualified to think of high quality solutions to complex problems. If you are the commissioner of the NFL, you have a ton of things that you need to be cognizant of and brilliant at, and any shortage of logical advanced thinking in any element of the NFL’s operations just comes back as a cost to the fan.
    I can’t wait for the day that Goodell is replaced by a brilliant visionary that knows how to properly shape and cultivate the future development of this sport.

  23. Want to make it count…..get rid of the AFC and NFC and make it all one conference. The top team in the NFL gets homefield throughout including the superbowl. You could still have 8 division winners and 4 wild cards making the playoffs, the only difference would be that instead of two six team brackets it would be one 12 team bracket with the last game being the super bowl.

  24. And the league wants to extend to an 18 game season? All that will do is allow teams like Indianapolis to lock up their post season birth even earlier. And then they would get to sit their starters for the final 2 or 3 games even lol.

  25. If this is such a problem maybe the NFL should go to a system like college football! Bring in the BCS baby! We’ll just vote on which 2 teams are the best! LOL see it doesn’t matter what the situation is you people are still going to bitch! If the NCAA had a playoff you would be bitching that USC had the Pac 10 wrapped up before their last game 3 out of the last 4 years so they rested players! ENJOY THE DAMN GAME PEOPLE! If you win enough games, you earn the right to rest your players!

  26. There’s 31 teams in the NFL besides the Colts. Willd Card spots, divisional titles and seeding could easily go to into week 17 without having been decided prior. Especially with the talent pretty evenly spread throughout the league.
    As bad as the Raiders were in 2009 they beat several playoff teams. And they usually play their divisional games pretty tough. The AFCW may come down to Chargers and Broncos.
    AFCE – It appears that the Jets and Dolphins are closing the gap between themselves and the Patriots.
    AFCN – You have the resurging Bengals who beat all divisional opponents last season. Ravens and Steelers are usually in contention through week 17.
    AFCS – Texans and Titans give the Colts all they can handle. But it might be a good idea to have the Titans and Texans play each other in week 17.
    The NFCE is usually a tight race. Any NFCE matchup in weeks 16 and 17 could have playoff implications.
    NFCN – You could have Packers, Vikings, and Bears all vying for playoff spots through week 17.
    NFCS – No guarantee that the Saints will win the division. They struggled down the stretch in 2009. It’s easy to imagine that the Falcons and Saints could be vying for positioning in the playoffs come week 17.
    NFCW – The Cardinals came back to the rest of pack after losing Warner, Boldin, Rolle. And the 49ers could easily be playing for something in week 17. They beat the Cardinals twice in 2008 and split last season.
    So you see, there could be some da*n good matchups with all kinds of implications in weeks 16 and 17 that doesn’t include the Colts.
    Not to mention, Don’t you think a divisional opponent not in contention for a playoff spot would like to knock its rival out of the playoffs? Or keep them from sowing up an off week in the playoffs?

  27. This is the most ridiculous non-issue imaginable. This is why there are a growing number of us don’t feel Goodell knows what to do.
    The argument that people paying regular season tickets deserve a regular season game effort falls apart quickly upon evaluation. There are very, very few teams that actually bench their starters to preserve them for the playoffs, and those teams are usually at the very top of their conference standings. Those fans are happy to see their team get ready for the playoffs and don’t usually complain. Everyone else is playing normally. I’m sure there won’t be another Pat fan who will complain when their team benches it’s starters week 17 after what happened to Wes Welker this past year.
    Goodell needs to find his next witch hunt.

  28. I think if a team has locked up everything by week 13 then they should have the right to decide who plays and doesn’t play in the final 3 games. It is their season at stake and they should have to play guys in meaningless games to them. I do like having all divisional games scheduled for the last 2 weeks of the season. In most cases they will be meaningful games. And will add great excitement to the last weeks of the season. Now if they could only fix the bye weeks. The league should have to bye weeks. Give half the league off in week 8 and the other half in week 9. This way you don’t have a game in week 11 with one team that had their bye in week 3 and the other in week 10! Starting the byes in week 3 is weak.

  29. I think you need a bigger sample size. In 2006 the Steelers went ALL OUT to beat the Bengals and cause them to miss the playoffs. The Steelers had nothing to gain with that win besides keeping a division opponent out of the post season.
    CBA condition: League paid winning bonuses to be distributed amongst the players and coaches of winning teams after week 14?

  30. I don’t recall Goodell saying it was a perfect solution. If fat he said it would not guarantee that teams would play their starters in the last 2 weeks. But as other had said they need to try something. The NFL cannot force a team to play their starters because if they did, and a team loses someone critical (say the Colts lose Manning), then at the very least the fault of that team not progressing would be on the NFL and perchance season ticket owners could sue.

  31. “Poo Flinging Monkey says:”
    Nice new “name-to-hide-behind-while-Steelers-bashing” … Vox.

  32. The Colts quit. All you had to do was look at Manning’s face during those games and you knew it wouldn’t end well.
    History will change how teams deal with this. And parity. It won’t be an issue for long. But I really dig the idea of the last two games being all division games.
    Don’t show, you’ll pay.
    Thank you, New Orleans. Celebrate your victory and your annointment into history.

  33. And when they go to 18 games?
    The NFL front office is out of control and needs to be reined in before they kill the goose that’s laying all of those golden eggs.

  34. Play all division games the last six weeks of the season and require a winning divisional record to qualify for the playoffs and a 500 or better record in non division games.
    I also think it would be better not to play inter conference games. Let the AFC play the AFC and the NFC play the NFC.
    You would play 10 of the 12 non divisional conference foes each year.

  35. Schedule the Colts to play Pats and winner of AFC Central or West last 2 games. If they still don’t, I pity the back-up!

  36. Most fans are happy to see their team get ready for the playoffs and don’t usually complain.
    If the players earn it early on they deserve the rest!

  37. Teams should get in the play-offs based on the complete regular season schedule as they currently do, but base play-off seeding on their record over the last 4 or 6 games, working towards the beginning of the season in 2 week increments to break ties. If teams want to play backups for late season games, they better have quality depth or they could end up on the road rather then at home.

  38. Teams should get in the play-offs based on the complete regular season schedule as they currently do, but base play-off seeding on their record over the last 4 or 6 games, working towards the beginning of the season in 2 week increments to break ties. If teams want to play backups for late season games, they better have quality depth or they could end up on the road rather then at home.

  39. The football gods got even with the Colts for the season ending crap they pulled last year. Was great to see that strategy go unrewarded.

  40. Maybe go back to 14 games per season. I know it would never happen. One more reason to stay at home and watch games than pay all that money to see a team flop.

  41. I love this site and I appreciate all your work Mike but I think you’re missing the point. By moving division games to the end of the season they’re hoping that those games actually mean something, not that teams will approach meaningless games differently.

  42. Good job claiming that “perfect should never get in the way of better”…and then blasting the idea because it’s not perfect.
    All this rule would do is increase the odds of a team having a “must win” game in the final two weeks of the regular season. Division games carry more weight than other games.
    Look at Dallas and Philly from Week 17 of last year. If the Eagles win that game they win the division and are the #2 seed in the playoffs, while the Cowboys fall to the 6th seed.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Not a member? Register now!