Screams from coaches, players, and fans that the NFL is set on popular teams and/or superstar players is one of the few criticisms the league will consistently push back.
Competitive balance is the league’s mantra, after all. Any given Sunday and all that. Most conspiracy theories aren’t exactly jarring either. No, the umpires weren’t trying to establish a specific matchup when they missed that pass interference call.
But then the NFL sorts out something like its Week 18 schedule, and you can see why the claims of favoritism linger.
In the final week of the season, the Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks battle it out for last spot in the NFC playoffs.
Green Bay just has to beat Detroit to get the nod.
Aaron Rodgers and the Packers may have caught a big break from the NFL by getting the Sunday night slot for their do-or-die season finale against the Detroit Lions. (AP Photo/Morry Wound)
Seattle must beat the Los Angeles Rams and then let the Lions defeat the Packers.
Detroit, meanwhile, must beat Green Bay and let Seattle lose.
The obvious — the right thing, fair, and smart — is that the Detroit-Green Bay and Rams-Seattle games are happening at the same time. Should Seattle win, it would not affect Detroit’s competitive pressures. The Lions didn’t know they were eliminated before they started playing.
This is exactly the standard used in other professional leagues in such scenarios, particularly in European football where regular season standings determine champions.
However, instead of allowing all three teams to play simultaneously — late Sunday afternoon — the NFL moved the Detroit-Green Bay game to Sunday evening at 8:25 p.m. ET. Still, Seattle will still play LA at 4:25 p.m. ET
That means if Seattle beats the modest Rams (5-11), the Lions would be eliminated before kickoff.
Maybe that’s affecting Detroit’s efforts. Maybe it doesn’t and the Lions would just as do anything to win and spoil Green Bay’s season.
Nobody knows. Seattle shouldn’t have to risk finding out, though.
The Seattle Seahawks will be battling for a playoff spot in the final week of the regular season, and the planning isn’t exactly working in their favor. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
This is a definite advantage for Green Bay, which, perhaps not coincidentally, is considered a historic franchise with a far bigger television draw and boasts one of the league’s biggest stars in quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
The story goes on
It doesn’t take much imagination to understand that the NFL and its broadcast partners would rather have Rodgers and the Packers in the playoffs than Seattle and its QB Geno Smith.
The NFL should have avoided this, if only to avoid prejudice – which it will vehemently deny. But the league decided against it.
As such, it either set this up on purpose to favor Green Bay, or it got straight into the perception that it set this up to favor Green Bay.
In any case, it was absolutely avoidable. This is a self-inflicted credibility wound.
Of course, NBC is delighted to get Rodgers and the Packers in a de facto playoff game on Sunday. Even if Detroit is eliminated before the game, Green Bay needs to win…and Seattle fans would watch the Packers lose.
And if the Rams are going to upset Seattle in any way, it’s a play-in game between Detroit and Green Bay.
No matter what, the reviews will be huge.
And regardless of the scenario, there’s an added benefit to the packers with the late window. As Rodgers pointed out weeks ago, Detroit plays its home games in a dome. Green Bay has historically reveled in teams like this when they have to play outside in the Wisconsin winter.
Well, the temperature will be lower at night than in the afternoon. A small thing, absolutely. But still one thing.
If the NFL has anything to offer — and anything Seattle fans can hope for — it’s that this Lions team has taken on the persona of their head coach, the knee-bitting Dan Campbell. The chance to win, the chance to ruin Rodgers’ and the Packers’ season, the chance to just compete will probably be enough.
But really, nobody knows, and that’s a theory that hasn’t had to be tested.
Seattle deserves better. So has the NFL’s long-standing claim that it doesn’t favor one team over another, because no matter what, that has taken a hit with this decision.