As the debate over the official BCS results started to heat up Sunday evening, I glanced at a nearby TV monitor and saw the Seahawks and Broncos about to kick off.
It was one of the more meaningful matchups of Week 13 in the NFL, but the stakes weren't nearly as high as they had been when USC and Florida took the field in college games the previous day. So, I started thinking, "How much different would a game like this be if the NFL decided its championship the same way college football does?"
Imagine an NFL with the only playoff game being the Super Bowl. Imagine a system of voters and computers deciding which two teams would play in the Super Bowl. Try to imagine this being a top story on today's sports pages:
Colts Get Kicked Where It Hurts
When Tennessee's Rob Bironas kicked a game-winning 60-yard field goal with seven seconds remaining, the Titans not only handed Indianapolis its second loss of the season but also might have dealt a super blow to the Colts' Super Bowl chances.
Indianapolis fell to 10-2 on the season and was passed in the Super Bowl Championship Series Standings by Chicago, which beat Minnesota on Sunday despite another shaky offensive performance. The Bears hold the No. 2 spot in this week's standings behind San Diego. The top two teams on Jan. 1 will play in the Super Bowl on Feb. 4.
Because the Bears have the easiest remaining schedule in the NFL -- at St. Louis (5-7), Tampa Bay (3-9), at Detroit (2-10), Green Bay (4-8) -- the Colts can't expect Chicago to lose again. More than likely, Indianapolis will need to win out to have any chance of ending its season with consecutive games at Dolphin Stadium, site of Super Bowl XLI. That would include a win at Miami in the regular-season finale, but the Colts also would have to win at Jacksonville this week, versus Cincinnati next week and at Houston on Christmas Eve.
If Indianapolis can do that, however, it has a great chance to be Super Bowl-bound. The Bears have an advantage of just eight-hundredths of a point over the Colts in the SBCS, and Chicago's lofty computer numbers are sure to take a hit from the weak remaining schedule. BCS analysts predict the Bears will not finish as the No. 1 team in the computers if the Chargers or Colts can win out.
"We just have to take care of our own business and not worry about the standings," Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy said Monday. "We can't control the Bears or the Chargers. All we can control is winning football games."
The Chargers have won their last six games but are certainly not a lock to make it 10 straight. Upcoming games against Denver, Kansas City and especially at Seattle could be difficult. If San Diego loses one of those games and Indianapolis also loses again, it's possible that New England could sneak into the Super Bowl through the back door. It would require many voters to drop the Chargers several places on their ballots, though, so it's probably not likely unless San Diego loses at home against Arizona to end the year.
The only other team that seems to still have a prayer of reaching Super Bowl XLI is Dallas. The Cowboys are fourth in the polls but are being held back in the computers because of their four losses. Dallas really needs the Chargers and Colts both to lose a couple more times down the stretch and hope that enough voters don't want to see a rematch of a late regular-season game between Chicago and New England. If such sentiment is prevalent, the Cowboys could leap over the Patriots in the final poll.
Dallas would just have to hope its momentum wouldn't turn to rust during the 34 days without a game leading up to the Super Bowl.
"You guys [media] are getting way ahead of yourselves with all that stuff," Cowboys coach Bill Parcells said. "I'm just happy we may have found a kicker."
Snap Back To Reality
The truth of the matter is that the NFL is better suited for a BCS-type method of determining a champion than college football. There are significantly fewer teams, so there are more common opponents to use as a basis of comparison between two teams. The NFL regular season (16 games) is 33 percent longer than the college regular season (12 games), so there's a larger sample of games by which to evaluate teams. And with the league's TV package, it would be much easier for voters -- if the NFL actually had them -- to watch every game played each week.
But as fate would have it, the league with 32 teams narrows down to a 12-team playoff, while the division with 119 teams gives only two of them a chance to play for the title.
If the NFL had made the move to a two-team playoff model along with college football in 1998, the Steelers would not have played in last season's Super Bowl. The Seahawks might not have either (it would have been tight between Seattle and Denver for the right to play Indianapolis). The Eagles would not have played in Super Bowl XXXIX. The Panthers would not have played in Super Bowl XXXVIII. The Patriots definitely would not have won Super Bowl XXXVI. And those are just the ones that are certain. It's possible that more than half of the Super Bowl teams over the previous eight seasons would not have ended up there in a system like this.
All the playoff upsets, all the great finishes, all the excitement ... it never would have happened. Sound like a good plan to you?
Come jump aboard the BCS train, NFL fans. You have no idea what you've been missing!
Brad Edwards is a college football researcher at ESPN. He's one of the few people in the country who truly understands how the BCS works, and his Road to the BCS column appeared weekly during the college football season.