File under "Change for Change's Sake:" The 49ers have become the poster boys for those who would revise the NFL's postseason alignment. With a 12-4 record, Our Boys will be facing the 8-7-1 Green Bay Packers tomorrow at Lambeau Field under "Ice Bowl" conditions, and more than a few have seized on this as evidence of the league's disparity. (Actually, we see it as evidence of parity, but this blog is not "Semantics Boogie", at least not yet.)
The carpers seem to fall into two general camps. First are those who would simply tweak the home-field advantage to reward the team with the better record, even if that team were the wild-card and their opponent the division winner. In that scenario this weekend's NFC home fields would be reversed, but nothing else would change. The Niners would host as the third seed with Green Bay the sixth, while Philly would play at New Orleans. Others favor more radical surgery: seed the teams 1-6 by record regardless of division titles or anything else. Presumably this would entail, in fact if not in appearance, one big 16-team conference with no divisions. This year's NFC qualifiers would thus be the Seahawks, Panthers, 49ers, Saints, Cardinals, and Eagles, with the Packers sidelined. The Washington Redskins would man the caboose in 16th place-- and as was once said by a baseball owner in 1969, explaining why the leagues adopted divisional play, "Who in the @#$%&! is gonna root for a 12th (or, we might add, 16th) -place team?"
The issue could also be addressed by consolidating the four divisions into two 8-team divisions (East and West in the NFC, North and South in the AFC) while qualifying four wild-cards, which would all but guarantee that the division winners would have the best records. But as one critic pointed out, 14 of each team's games would thus be played within their division. Even if the season expanded to 18 games, such a configuration would radically change the regular season.
So the best answer is to do nothing, play it as it lays, and by all means resist any efforts to expand the postseason derby to 14 teams. (Back, infidel Goodell!) Good thing the 49ers have played well on the road, isn't it?
Okay, a few quick and topical one-liners before the show starts:
Kansas City at Indianapolis. Y'all know the Chiefs are our favorite AFC team, but we like the Colts, too. (Did you know that next year, their 31st in Indianapolis, they'll have been in Indy as long as they were in Baltimore?) Two well-coached teams, two Number One Pick quarterbacks... we're pulling for Alex and his mates, but if we had to throw down we'd go with the home team, by a field goal, possibly in OT.
New Orleans at Philadelphia. The whole house here is pulling for the Saints to win and then go up to Seattle and avenge that 2010 playoff defeat, but reality tells us that 10-degree weather and LeSean McCoy will overcome Drew Brees and a lousy run defense. We see Philly pulling away in the second half before Brees mounts an exciting but too-late rally that falls short by a TD or so.
San Diego at Cincinnati. A repeat of 1982's "Freezer Bowl?" Perhaps so. Andy Dalton ain't no Ken Anderson, but whether the Chargers' defense can force him into mistakes is the question. And if he doesn't screw up, the Bengals roll. Too bad, because we like this San Diego team, but the Bengals stay unbeaten at home and win their first playoff game since 1990. Then it's on to Foxboro...
49ers at Green Bay. Weather or not, Our Boys have too many weapons for a Packer defense that may be without Clay Matthews. Three quarters of Kap-versus-Rodgers, big plays, back-and-forth-- and then a fourth quarter of Frank Gore, Navorro Bowman, and disgruntled Cheeseheads abandoning their seats for their cars. Niners by 14.