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Top Non-Playoff Teams with Winning Records

Andy Lopusnak
Saturday August 3, 2013

On Tuesday, the AFL put out an article that glorified its view of the “Top 10 Playoff Teams with Losing Records.” Since the league opted to glorify teams that sucked in the regular season and only made the postseason because of the flawed playoff seeding; I’ve instead decided to opine about the times that teams with better records were shafted by this idiotic playoff seeding structure that emphasizes conferences instead of overall record. All this silliness began in 2005 when the league went from best overall record making the playoffs to a conference and division structure because of neutral-site ArenaBowls.

Including this season, there have been 210 playoff teams with now 24 losing-record playoff teams. An additional 30 even record teams (i.e. 8-8, 9-9, etc.) have made it to the second season. There have been six teams with winning records and 12 teams with even records that haven’t made the postseason in league history. Five of the six winning teams not to make the playoffs have occurred since 2005 and ten of the 24 losing record teams have made the postseason in the same timeframe.

It took the league 17 seasons to have its first team with a winning record not make the playoffs when the 2004 New York Dragons (9-7) failed to make the playoffs. Though New York won its weak division, it didn’t make the playoffs because the Dragons lost a tie breaker for the eighth spot since the teams with the best records made the postseason for the league’s first 17 seasons. This changed a year later, when the league moved to the ridiculous playoff structure it currently uses (based on conference and a division winner hosting a playoff game no matter its record).

Over 50% of the league’s 14 teams make the playoffs and thus this year a 10-8 team was shutout and two 7-11 teams making it into the playoffs. For the third time in the last four seasons (all since the 2010 reboot), the #2 seed in one of the conferences had a worse record than the team it played in the playoffs and all three have lost that first round game by at least two scores:  #2 Tulsa (10-6) lost to #3 Tampa Bay (11-5) in 2010; #2 Cleveland (10-8) lost to #3 Georgia (11-7) in 2011; #2 Chicago (10-8) lost to #3 Spokane (14-4) this season. 

Obviously, the conference system works better in the NFL that has 32 teams. It’s not perfect there either and rarely has a losing record team got into the postseason (like when the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks won the NFC West and two 10-6 NFC teams failed to reach the playoffs). If the AFL had something close to 30 teams, this two-conference playoff system would be fine; but having 14 teams with 57.1% of its teams making the playoffs will continue to put bad teams into the playoffs while good ones are left out.

So instead of putting crappy-record teams on a pedestal like the AFL did in an article earlier this week, here’s the times that better teams were shafted because of the two-conference playoff system. All of this silliness has occurred within the last nine seasons. Hopefully, the board will vote either this offseason or soon to change this. You can still have neutral-site ArenaBowls with the top eight teams based on record getting into the postseason.

2013 San Antonio Talons (10-8)
Sadly, two 7-11 teams in the American Conference (Orlando and Tampa Bay) made it. San Antonio didn’t play Orlando but swept its series against Tampa Bay by at least 20 points in both contests. The Talons were 7-0 against the American Conference, which included wins over Jacksonville and Philadelphia (the conference’s top two teams).

2012 Spokane Shock (10-8) & Chicago Rush (10-8)
In the American Conference, a 9-9 team and an 8-10 team made the postseason. It was the first time that both franchises missed the playoffs.

2008 Tampa Bay Storm (8-8) & New Orleans VooDoo (8-8)
Three 6-10 teams made it in the American Conference while the Storm and VooDoo were shafted. In fact, the 6-10 Utah Blaze actually hosted a home game and the 6-10 Grand Rapids Rampage won two playoff games before being blown out by San Jose. No wonder the league folded for a year after this disastrous playoff debacle with 12 of 17 teams making the playoffs – that’s a ridiculous 70.6% of the league’s teams.

2006 Columbus Destroyers (8-8)
Two 7-9 teams in the American Conference made it into the postseason including the eventual champion Chicago Rush. If the Rush would’ve lost its regular season finale by eight points, then would-be champs wouldn’t have made the playoffs and the 6-10 Grand Rapids Rampage would’ve been in the postseason.

2005 New Orleans VooDoo (9-7) and Dallas Desperados (8-7-1)
This was the first year of the neutral-site ArenaBowl and the first time that the conference meant anything in playoff seeding. In the old system, New Orleans would’ve made it with its wins over fellow 9-7 teams San Jose and Chicago.

With two teams with winning records and another 8-8 squad, the league decided to balloon its playoff system from eight to 12 teams for 2006-08 like it did from 1999-2002 that saw twelve teams with non-winning record make the playoffs.

2004 New York Dragons (9-7)
From 1987-2004, this team was the first team with a winning record to not make the playoffs. New York won its weak division, but failed to make the playoffs because the top eight teams made the playoffs even if they didn’t win its division. The league changed this the following season and the Dragons became the first team with a worse record hosting a team with a better record in the playoffs.

If the league didn’t go to 12 playoff spots from 2006-08; then six teams with losing records would’ve not stained the league’s playoffs (including the 2006 champions). Because of the flooding of bad record teams, those losing teams had nine playoff wins in just three seasons, which included two teams that played in the ArenaBowl and one that won it. If the AFL kept the 12 playoff teams after the league’s reboot in 2010, then this year 12 of 14 teams would be postseason bound this season and eleven additional losing record teams would be in the playoffs in just four seasons.

Thankfully, only eight teams have made the playoffs since the reboot. But there’s still lots of problems and a simple vote by the board can change this in the future.

If the league had top eight teams making the playoffs, this is what the 2013 playoffs would look like.

#8 Utah (7-11) at #1 Arizona (15-3)
#7 San Antonio (10-8) at #2 Spokane (14-4)
#6 Chicago (10-8) at #3 San Jose (13-5)
#5 Philadelphia (12-6) at #4 Jacksonville (12-6)

If it were based on best record, then both Tampa Bay and Orlando would be out because Utah won the common opponents tie breaker and six of the eight playoff teams would be from the National Conference.

Nope, instead the American Conference top two seeds get to host 7-11 teams in the first round. It was insane that two divisions this year had just three teams. Look at the Eastern Division with the two other teams not named Philadelphia were both 4-14. That means the Soul could’ve been 5-13 and won its division. You put Philly in the Western and even at 12-6 it would’ve finished fourth. Something needs to change.

Since I don’t see the league doing away with the two-conference playoff system because they want to have conference championships, hopefully the board will do away with divisions and just have two conferences. Of course that would’ve done nothing to change the playoff teams this season (best record would have two different teams). Though Chicago would’ve been the #4 seed instead of the #2 seed in the National Conference and would be playing this Sunday against Arizona instead of losing Thursday night. That’s why a change back to the top eight teams based on record would be ideal especially in a league with less than 24 teams. You can still do neutral-site ArenaBowls and this could allow title games with great rivalries like Arizona-San Jose and the War on I-4.

Having losing teams make the playoffs while teams with better records are left out only hurts the validity of this league. 

Andy Lopusnak is an 11-year AFL front office veteran, spending time with the Tampa Bay Storm, San Diego Riptide and Grand Rapids Rampage. He works as a statistician for NFL and college sports for CBS Sports and is a freelance photographer. Lopusnak received two Bachelor of Arts degrees from the University of South Florida and has been a fan of ArenaBall since its inception.
The opinions expressed in the article above are only those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts, opinions, or official stance of ArenaFan Online or its staff, or the Arena Football League, or any AFL or af2 teams.
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