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Dickey: Scheduling makes NFL playoffs unparalleled

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Last weekend reminded me why I prefer the football postseason over baseball’s.

The NFL gets it right by rewarding teams for their regular-season play. The best teams get a first-round bye, so they have more time to heal the inevitable injuries. In each matchup, the team with the better record (or higher finish) hosts the game, a significant advantage. The wild-card teams never host a game.

Baseball has struggled with the postseason scheduling ever since the leagues weredivided and spots were awarded to three divisions plus a wild card. The original scheduling for the first round of play, with two home games at the wild card’s park, followed by three at the park of the team with the better record or higher finish, sometimes favored the wild-card team; by winning the first two at home, the wild-card team got momentum. The Giants got ambushed that way by the Florida Marlins in 1997.

Television also plays too important a role in the baseball postseason. To fit into the television schedule, teams sometimes have no travel days, and other times have too much time between games. In 2006, the Detroit Tigers were clearly the best in baseball, but lost their edge when they had to wait two weeks between the last game of the AL Championship Series and the first game of the World Series. They lost the Series to the St. Louis Cardinals, who won only 83 games in the regular season. A travesty.

Television isn’t a factor in the NFL postseason because the games are played on the weekend, as almost all games are during the regular season.

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As a result, the best teams usually advance to the conference championship games and the Super Bowl. No NFL team as weak as baseball’s Cardinals in 2006 has won the Super Bowl.

There are occasional blowouts in the rounds leading up to the championship games. The only real interest in the Green Bay-Seattle game after the first half was the snow which blanketed the field.

But the Sunday games were both terrific, and each had compelling story lines.

In Indianapolis, the San Diego Chargers were trying to shed their reputation as a talented team that could not win in the postseason and Norv Turner was trying to prove he was a good coach, not just a pumped-up offensive coordinator. Turner’s critics had claimed he won this year only because of the great individual talent on the team, but the Chargers drove for the go-ahead touchdown with their three best offensive playmakers — running back LaDainian Tomlinson, tight end Antonio Gates and quarterback Philip Rivers — out with injuries. That was more character than talent.

In Dallas, the quarterbacks were the pregame focus. Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, a free spirit, was under fire for taking a short margarita-fueled vacation in Cabo San Lucas with Jessica Simpson. New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning was trying to shake his reputation as a choker in big games.

In the end, though, it was the injury-weakened Giants defense that saved the win, holding off the Cowboys twice in the closing minutes despite being on the field for an incredible 36½ minutes.

Great stuff. In both cases, two good teams were slugging it out, with the outcome decided by the players, not by a scheduling fluke determined by TV schedules.

Major League Baseball, take note.

Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. E-mail him at glenndickey@hotmail.com.

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