Implications of the 2010 Governor's Cup

Posted Dec 15, 2010

This year's Governor's Cup likely has a bigger impact on Kansas City's season than on St. Louis'

When it comes to postseason positioning, it’s hard to believe that the 8-5 Chiefs are faced with more of a must-win situation than the 6-7 Rams. Kansas City leads the AFC West by a game, while the Rams are tied atop their division as the next edition of the Governor’s Cup quickly approaches. This Sunday’s game is a big one for both teams, but it’s much bigger for the Chiefs.

The AFC West features a red hot Chargers team whose remaining opponents own a combined 10-29 record. San Diego currently owns tiebreaker rights over the Chiefs as well. St. Louis, on the other hand, still sits in good shape even if they lose.

A loss on Sunday doesn’t necessarily end Kansas City’s season, but the Chiefs would no longer control their own destiny should San Diego win its final three games. Missing the postseason with a 10-6 record becomes a legitimate possibility…again.

Go ahead, spend some time playing around on ESPN’s Playoff Machine.

Though the Chiefs and Rams reside in different conferences, St. Louis’ current postseason scenario represents flaws in the playoff format that the NFL adopted in 2002. Even with a loss to the Chiefs this weekend, the 6-8 Rams would control their own playoff destiny. St. Louis plays San Francisco and Seattle Weeks 16-17.

An 8-8 Rams team (or any 8-8 NFC west team for that matter) would get the nod over what will likely be two conference teams with double-digit wins. There’s also a very real possibility that a 7-9 record will carry the NFC West, putting a sub-.500 team in the playoffs for the first time in NFL history, excluding the strike-shortened 1982 season.

How do you think that will sit with an 11-win (insert NFC East, North or South team name here) that misses the playoffs?

This discussion arises every few seasons. In 2006, the N.Y. Giants were in the middle of a Week 17 scenario that potentially had them entering the postseason with a 7-9 record. The G-Men went ahead and won in that final week to qualify for the postseason as an 8-8 wild card team.

A losing team has never qualified for the postseason, and it may not happen this season either, but the occurrence is inevitable under the NFL’s current playoff structure.      

The 2008 San Diego Chargers made NFL history by becoming the first 8-8 division champion since the league re-organized into eight divisions of four teams in 2002. San Diego remains the only 8-8 division winner since re-alignment, though three other 8-8 teams have qualified for the postseason as wild card teams.

8-8 Playoff Teams Since 2002

#2008 San Diego Chargers

*2006 New York Giants

*2004 Minnesota Vikings

*2004 St. Louis Rams

# denotes division champion; * denotes wild card

San Diego’s 8-8 record kept the 11-5 New England Patriots out of the postseason. That team, of course, was quarterbacked by Matt Cassel after Tom Brady suffered a season-ending knee injury on Opening Day against the Chiefs. The Patriots became only the second team in over 20 years to miss the playoffs after an 11-win season.

Surprisingly, three of the four 8-8 playoff qualifiers pulled upsets in their Wild Card matchups. None, however, got past the divisional round.

Aside from the possibility a 7-9 or 8-8 team winning the NFC West, the 2010 season could see a team go undefeated in division play and still miss the playoffs. Such a feat is almost unthinkable and has yet to happen under the NFL’s 32-team format.  

That squad, to the delight of Chiefs fans, would be the Oakland Raiders. Be careful what you wish for though, because the Raiders would need to defeat the Chiefs on January 2nd to become a member of that exclusive club.

If Oakland sweeps the AFC West slate with victories over Denver and Kansas City, they’d still need to beat the Colts and have both the Chargers and Chiefs lose one additional game in order to qualify for the postseason. The Raiders could also win the AFC West with an 8-8 record if both Kansas City and San Diego lose their remaining games.

An expansion from 31 to 32 teams in 2002 forced conference re-alignment and lightened the divisional impact on each team’s overall schedule.

Eventually, a 7-9 division champion is going to qualify for the postseason while two double-digit winners sit at home. The networks will have a field day when that happens. In the meantime, the playoffs essentially begin on Sunday for the Chiefs. A win is the only way for the Chiefs to keep their postseason aspirations in their own hands…for now

Next week may offer another set of circumstances. Isn’t December football great?

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