The Columbus Dispatch

Bigger field to yield bad playoff football

- Jarrett Bell

This is exactly what the NFL planned … like decades ago when Pete Rozelle was commish.

With two weekends left in the longest regular season ever, 12 of the NFL'S 32 teams are floating along with seven or eight wins. That's Pete's Parity for you. There's still hope and hype for playoff glory for some teams that have no business being rewarded for bad football.

What a mess.

Look at the Baltimore Ravens. John Harbaugh's physically decimated, gritty team lost its fourth consecutiv­e game on Sunday as the depleted defense was shredded for 525 yards by Joe “Gold Jacket” Burrow. Yet a few hours after getting blown out, the Ravens (8-7) backed into the final playoff slot (at least temporaril­y) after the Steelers were thrashed in Kansas City.

This is the NFL today. A month ago, the Ravens held the top seed for the AFC playoffs. Now, clawing to claim the last spot. Pending Miami's result on Monday night in New Orleans against a team with 20 players on the COVID list as of Sunday, Baltimore has a chance to win out and get in as a wild-card entrant. And it's still possible the Ravens could win the A-north if the Bengals flip again and lose out.

That's just one of a thousand wild scenarios.

Yet the Ravens can dream, given that the team with an even worse loss on Sunday – the Chargers (8-7), manhandled at Houston – proved it is still not a legit playoff team.

Insert Jim Mora soundtrack here: “Playoffs? Playoffs? Playoffs?”

Makes me wonder: Did the NFL really need to give us the extra playoff slots, seven in each conference, while expanding the schedule to 17 games? Of course not. It could have served 17

games without expanding the playoffs. The benefit to the league (more revenue) and the TV networks (more revenue) is obvious, but it comes at the cost of presenting mediocre playoff football – as if mediocre regular-season football isn't enough.

Maybe it gets better in the future. Yet it's been a bad idea for this particular season, with COVID wreaking more havoc the deeper the campaign goes, on top of the usual injury risks.

Can anybody top the now-buff-again Chiefs in the AFC? It sure won't be a seventh seed.

On the NFC side, there's more projected playoff intrigue. And it starts at the top.

The team that ultimately gets in as the seventh seed – Philadelph­ia (8-7) holds that card in the NFC field – is likely destined to be one-and-done in January. A second playoff bye, as in the past, still makes for better playoff competitio­n.

In other words, Seed No. 7 looks like dead weight; raw meat for the No. 2 seed in opening the playoffs.

Sure, the players, coaches and fans can embrace momentum.

Here's to keeping hope alive.

 ?? AARON DOSTER/AP ?? Ravens running back Devonta Freeman carries against the Bengals on Sunday.
AARON DOSTER/AP Ravens running back Devonta Freeman carries against the Bengals on Sunday.
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