Postseason sports are the best sports. They’re supposed to be the best sports. The best teams. The best players. The best coaches. The best competition. The best action. The best drama. The best melodrama. The best games. The best ending to a long season.
But some postseasons are better than others. And the one that is happening now is the best of them all.
The NFL playoffs, in general, and this weekend of the NFL playoffs, in particular. A close second would be next weekend’s conference championships.
Everything else, as good as all of it might be, cannot match it.
The immediacy is one of the keys. There’s a beginning, a middle and an ending, a conclusion, every time out. Competitive survival is on the line.
Some argue that the NCAA Tournament is the equal of that, seeing March Madness as the ultimate in postseason satisfaction. Everything at risk in every game. Cinderella stories. No delays. No fiddle-faddling around. Winner stays alive, loser goes home.
Ecstasy and agony.
But you get the same winner-takes-all phenomenon in the NFL playoffs, with a couple of benefits and bonuses alongside. Football by its nature is more of an event than basketball. It feels bigger. A single football game carries more heft than a single basketball game, even when the stakes are high, the results definitive.
The college football playoff doesn’t cut it for three reasons — there’s too much politicking to set an abbreviated field, there’s too much repetition in the teams that make it, and there’s one more most significant factor that plagues the CFP and the NCAA Tournament: The action and execution in the NFL playoffs far exceeds what the college postseasons offer, the pro teams being the best on the planet at what they do. The college kids? Not so much. Those games, especially on the hardwood, are controlled from the bench by a coach who is a puppet-master, a bigger name, a bigger star than the players themselves. There’s some of that in the NFL playoffs, but not to the same extent.
NFL DIVISIONAL ROUND
Minnesota at San Francisco, 2:35 p.m. Ch. 5
Tennessee at Baltimore, 6:15 p.m Ch. 2
Houston at Kansas City, 1:05 p.m. Ch. 2
Seattle at Green Bay, 4:40 p.m. Ch. 13
In past seasons, when the Patriots’ dynasty still had breath, Bill Belichick may have gotten plenty of face time, plenty of credit, plenty of attention, but not as much as Tom Brady.
Look around at the teams still alive in the playoffs this year, note the names involved — from Lamar Jackson to Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson to Deshaun Watson, Patrick Mahomes to … what’s this, Kirk Cousins? Well, you get the idea.
And there’s no absence of surprises. In the wildcard round last week, three home teams lost, including Brady’s Patriots and Drew Brees’ Saints. Observers who want unpredictability can get their fill.
Saturday, there’s the Vikings vs. the 49ers, the Titans vs. the Ravens. Sunday, the Texans take on the Chiefs, the Seahawks face the Packers.
Good stuff, all around.
As for the other major pro leagues and their postseasons, they provide compelling drama, indeed. In basketball, baseball and hockey, the best-of-seven-game series has become the standard. The origins of that structure stem from baseball, which way back when wandered from three-game series to 15-game deals. Somebody decided that a three-gamer didn’t allow enough pitchers to participate, so it bounced around from best-of-seven to best-of-nine. But the back end of the best-of-nine, according to various accounts, didn’t draw big enough crowds, fans seeming to draw their line of acceptance, interest, and willingness to buy tickets at seven games.
Moreover, it is said that seven was seen as a lucky number.
So seven it is for MLB, the NBA and the NHL — for no more sophisticated reason than dumb luck.
There are some benefits to having championship contenders fight and lose and then live to play another day, and another day after that, and another and another, foremost among them the strategy and intrigue that build as the games go on. How many times have coaches and players tried a certain scheme and structure against an opponent, discover it works or doesn’t, and then go about their business a different way next time out? Frequently.
And the course of a best-of-seven series sometimes allows for subtexts to develop, for a player or a coach or fans for one team to insult or incite players and coaches and fans on the other. It also allows for rivalries to stir and oddities to occur, such as the most recent World Series, in which the road team won every game. That’s weird and fun. It might also determine in a more definitive way which team is actually the best, which champion is most worthy.
But in a day and age of getting a determination, like, right now, the NFL model works best. It doesn’t always create the best title game, the best Super Bowl, but the annual path to it is an absolute gas.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.