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The NFL playoffs, if there was a bowl system

What if the NFL operated like college football? Which two teams would play in the BCS title game? Which lower-tier bowl would benefit from having two big-market teams? We answer all those questions here.

Thomas B. Shea

In order to protect the shield, we must prevent the horror that has enveloped the NFL's postseason and damaged the brand: mediocre teams getting to the NFL brand's crown jewel, the Super Bowl. Fortunately, there is already a solution to the plague of 9-7 teams -- mostly the New York Giants -- defacing the shield with their mediocrity. The shield: it must be defended.*

*Adult men actually use this phrase seriously. They exist, and are real.

That solution is obvious: a NFL bowl system. No more will your team have to endure the travesty of a 13-3 season ruined because your kicker cannot make a simple 30-yard field goal, or because your franchise quarterback picked the worst day imaginable to throw four interceptions to a hapless 7-9 team's secondary. The regular season, a marginally important series of play-in games now, will carry real significance. The postseason, now more arbitrary and frustrating than ever, will spark debate and anger for decades to come.

Skip Bayless will have so many things to talk about now! Oh, you're already so welcome, America.

A few ground rules to remind our NFL brethren of:

  • We're freezing records for picking purposes as they stand right now.
  • One bowl and one bowl is currently loyal to matching up the two best teams: the BCS Title game. This call is made based on rankings, which the NFL does not have. In lieu of this, we will use the two teams with the best records and, if necessary, the best strength of schedule relative to that record. If this fails or there is a tie, we will simply pick the teams we think will get the best ratings and ticket sales.
  • The rest of the bowls will be decided on attendance and likely ratings based on regional pull.
  • College football really ends their season like this every year. They also do not pay their players, which hey Jerry Richardson, seriously, IDEAS FOR THE FUTURE $$$$$$$$$$$.
  • We also will only use about half of the available teams and a quarter of the available bowl games. This is a matter of math: to play in a bowl game, you have to have a .500 record barring a loss in a conference championship game. There are 16 teams in the NFL with a .500 record or better, and those teams have to play each other in eight select bowl games.

What if college football had a 16-team playoff?

OUTBACK BOWL: The former Hall of Fame Bowl just barely makes the cut of cuts thanks to its generous payout -- remember you get money from bowls for attending -- and because it was once advertised in the area with enormous billboards bearing Sam Wyche's face. That last part has no statistical weight, but it still haunts my dreams, so deal with it.

The Outback selects the Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7) and the New York Giants (8-6) based strictly on attendance potential thanks to half of Tampa Bay's population coming from these two metropolitan areas. The other half's origins are a mystery, as they have neither federal ID, nor came to the door when the census men came because things outside of the house are scary and people sometimes investigate workers' comp claims and you won't like the results.

GIFT BAG SAYS: You get a $150 Outback Steakhouse gift card.

CAPITAL ONE BOWL. The surprisingly flush-with-cash Cap One bowl is set in Orlando, a city of theme parks, parking lots and scrub pine littered with newly homeless realtors. The overheated mayonnaise colada of American cities demands two fan bases who would consider Orlando to be "The tropics," and who would gladly vacuum up the experience like human Dysons cleaning every last crumb of processed experience from the Citrus Bowl's bland, vanilla rug crammed with existential Chex mix.

I don't know what that means either, but it adds up to the Capital One Bowl selecting Minnesota (8-6) and Indianapolis (9-5). Indy fans are the ones complaining about the spicy chicken fingers at the concession stand (they have no salt or pepper in them.) Minnesota fans are the ones quietly being thrown out of the park after a drunken family brawl at the bar in Epcot's Mexico pavilion. Tequila and sublimated Nordic hatreds are never, ever a good mix.

GIFT BAG SAYS: A shopping spree at Best Buy, because nothing says "Orlando" quite like "Buy anything you want at this half-abandoned big box retail store."

COTTON BOWL: HOOOWEEEE like Jerry Jones is letting a chance to snag his Cowboys for an extra home game here regardless of record. Jerrah also won't bypass the chance to grab a classic NFL franchise he deems beatable, so to maximize pointlessness, they'll also grab the Redskins here because nothing would be more pointless or appropriate than the Cowboys and Redskins playing yet another game, and doing so for a.) nothing and b.) at great cost to the viewer.

GIFT BAG SAYS: An iPad, reportedly. You are now in debt to Snyder Enterprises, Inc. for the full assessed value of the iPad, which according to Snyder Enterprises, Inc's books is $4,300. Daily interest will apply. Thank you and enjoy the Cotton Bowl.

ORANGE BOWL: One case where the bowl game with NFL teams will make so much more sense than the college alignment. The Orange Bowl has been a cursed blight of ACC and Big East train wreckage for a decade now, but picking along those lines here gives you some genuinely good and hard-traveling NFL teams to put in the pristine, little-used seats of the SunLife Stadium's upper reaches.

If you're being playful and sort of following the usual alignments for the Orange, then you can very clearly take teams roughly corresponding to the Big East and the ACC. This gets you a steal with the New England Patriots (10-4) vs. the Baltimore Ravens (9-5) hitting South Beach. All the angry adult men in jerseys fighting over not getting into the club on South Beach? ALL THE ANGRY ADULT MEN IN JERSEYS FIGHTING OVER NOT GETTING INTO THE CLUB ON SOUTH BEACH.

Bonus: Ed Reed, former Miami Hurricane, will totally be out on a porch playing dominoes on Calle Ocho like it's nothing after this game. And if you throw down a hundred on the table and bone up, so can you.

GIFT BAG SAYS: A Tourneau watch, most likely lost in the aforementioned dominoes game around 5 a.m.

SUGAR BOWL: Remember, this is not about skill, or matchups. This is about roughly satisfying some kind of existing tie-in while balancing your TV ratings and maybe -- just maybe -- selling some tickets. Thus do the Denver Broncos (11-3), the pride of the Rockies, end up in New Orleans versus the Cincinnati Bengals (8-6). Matchup? An atrocity in the making, most likely, just like most every SEC vs. Big East matchup in the real Sugar Bowl, but it will sell tickets thanks to the pull of homeboy Peyton Manning and the unblinking desire of Cincinnati residents to go somewhere, anywhere at all but home in the month of January.

GIFT BAG SAYS: A "gift suite," a New Orleans term for a sack full of live exotic animals freshly taken from NOLA airport customs.

FIESTA BOWL: The bowl that's still sort of in trouble with the other bowls for openly bribing Arizona officials and nearly capsizing the entire system doesn't get many choices, and that's why they get the Seattle Seahawks (9-5) and Chicago Bears (8-6) whether they like it or not. Pete Carroll in a bowl game, for NFL fans unaccustomed to the phenomenon, is like Pete Carroll injecting pure Pete Carroll directly into the jugular vein, and then calling a bowl game. It's basically Crank 5 in football form, and you're going to die.

GIFT BAG SAYS: Another gift suite, which in the past from the Fiesta Bowl have just been sacks of cash and autographed pictures of Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

ROSE BOWL: The Grandaddy of them All selects the San Francisco 49ers (10-3) vs. Green Bay Packers (10-4). Not only does the game trace the Big Ten/Pac-12 roots of the Rose Bowl in picking a great Midwestern/West Coast matchup, it also ensures maximum ratings by matching two offenses capable of paying respects to the recently deceased WAC. Jim Harbaugh in a bowl game is like five Pete Carrolls freebased into a cyborg wolverine's brain and let loose in a chicken coop full of sleepy hens, and you're already dead, Mike McCarthy.

GIFT BAG SAYS: Just the privilege of being here is enough for you, hahaha. Just kidding, you get a truck made of flowers because ROSE BOWL PARADE something something.

BCS TITLE GAME: The Atlanta Falcons (12-2) vs. Houston Texans (12-2) would face each other here mostly because they would have to, playing a well-matched, slightly bland title game while the NFL's advertisers slit their wrists at not having the Giants, Bears, Patriots or Steelers selling the NFL's ancestral homeland on the game. On the upside, some kind of awkward-lookin' white guy named "Matt" is totally earning his life's salary in this game while Arian Foster has a whole week to talk to the media. Pterodactyl time is an inevitability.

GIFT BAG SAYS: Another "gift suite," which in our world is a bag filled with Rick Ross springing shirtless from inside, putting on his sunglasses, and quietly saying "Lemme show you how a Don do at the Outback Steakhouse in Dania Beach before we go make some money watching fixed jai-ala matches."