Backing into the playoffs
The final week of the NFL regular season can be almost as thrilling as the playoffs. Some teams are faced with the simple situation of "win and you're in" or "lose and go home." However, some NFL teams are faced with a number of scenarios to qualify for the postseason. In fact, it is quite common for such a team to lose its last regular season game and still go to the playoffs.
Unfortunately, this particular circumstance has been given the derogatory cliché of "backing into the playoffs." The expression implies that the NFL team making the postseason because another team (or teams) lost its last game is somehow not as worthy because they needed help. However, anyone who uses the phrase "backing into the playoffs" is doing a gross injustice to the NFL team he or she is describing.
2011 Denver Broncos
I could cite numerous examples of NFL teams backing into the playoffs, but I will stick to the most recent offenders. If fans and experts can't remember a team's whole body of work over a full season, I know it's too much to ask them to remember anything that happened over a season ago. Our ADD generation focuses on the last loss and the wins that came earlier in the season may as well be ancient history.
The Denver Broncos entered their last game with a record of 8-7. Thanks to owning the key tiebreakers over the Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers, the Broncos would still represent the AFC West in the playoffs if all three teams finished tied at 8-8. That particular scenario came to pass as the NFL pundits began spinning the Broncos postseason appearance as backing into the playoffs.
Of course, it didn't help that Tim Tebow is their QB. Although I am a proud Tebow fan, that has nothing to do with me defending the Broncos playoff appearance. The 2011 Cincinnati Bengals also "backed into the playoffs" as they lost their season finale as well. Considering the fact that perennial media darlings such as the Chargers and New York Jets didn't even get into the playoffs, the Broncos and Bengals shouldn't be accused of backing into anything.
2009 New Orleans Saints
In 2009, the Saints did not back into the playoffs. However, some critics claimed they backed into the number one seed in the NFC. The Saints lost their last three games, but the Vikings kept losing as well so the Saints held onto the top spot. Despite their struggles at the end of the regular season, the Saints still won 13 games and went on to win Super Bowl 44.
Only 37.5% of NFL teams make the playoffs. This is a much smaller percentage than the NBA and NHL. Any NFL team that enters the postseason has earned their spot. Clearly, the previous 15 games carry greater weight than the season finale. I have nothing but respect for any team that qualifies for the NFL Playoffs.
Teams love to look for extra motivation. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if all the "backing into the playoffs" chatter makes those NFL teams feel as though they've been "backed into a corner" and they have added incentive to prove their critics wrong.
Patrick Michael lives in New Orleans and has always been a big fan of SEC football. He has followed Tim Tebow's career since his days at Florida. Patrick Michael respects Tebow as an athlete and as a role model.
"2011 Denver Broncos," pro-football-reference.com
"2011 Cincinnati Bengals," pro-football-reference.com
"2009 New Orleans Saints," pro-football-reference.com
More from this contributorThe top 5 victims of the Madden curse