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Weak Schedule Helped Some Wild Card Teams Into NFL Playoffs


Finally this hour, as we get ready to settle in for the NFL playoffs - that's four football games per weekend over the next two weekends - NPR's Mike Pesca is here to offer insight, analysis, and I understand a little cold water. Mike, what's your deal here?

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Well, as the calendar turns to a new year, I suppose hope is supposed to spring eternal, but this is the NFL. We're not talking about hope. We're talking about crushing your opponent and grinding him up, so let's do that, I figured, with some of the teams who are in the playoffs but perhaps advanced statistics or the eye test suggest shouldn't be. I'd like to talk about some of the terrible teams that have made the postseason.

CORNISH: OK, against my better judgment, I will enable you. Which team in the wild card playoffs is the worst?

PESCA: Well, I'm going to pick on the Indianapolis Colts. When you think of the Colts, you think of some great things around them this year. They were 2-14 last year, so it's been a great bounce-back season. Their coach battled cancer. He's doing well now. It's inspiring. And their quarterback, Andrew Luck, one of the more exciting young players in the NFL, finds a way to win games. However, if you really dissect what's going on with the Colts this year, they've gotten extremely lucky, they've played a weak schedule.

There are a lot of computer rankings out there. Yeah, I know, everyone hates computers. It's just a bunch of guys keying in numbers, but sometimes they have something to tell us. And Jeff Sagarin, his computer ratings for USA Today say the Colts are the 23rd best team. Football Outsiders, they have a good set of ratings, ranks the Colts 25th. In reality, not a very good team.

CORNISH: Well, let me help out Colts fans here. I mean, the team was 11-5.

PESCA: Oh, you're saying those are the numbers that matter?

CORNISH: I'm just saying, you know, don't they deserve to be there?

PESCA: Yeah, of course, they do. They played the games in front of them, and that's the point. You have to realize what the NFL - so different from all the other sports. Other sports teams basically play the same schedule as their opponents. But in the NFL, there are only 16 games, and the Colts' schedule was so weak. It was the weakest schedule in the league. They do that on purpose to try to give a break to teams that were horrible one year. But it was so very weak that when we're comparing a Colts 11-5 record, it's really different from a lot of other teams that were, you know, 10-6 or even 9-7. They hugely benefited from an extremely weak schedule. And when they played good teams, they did not do well. But, hey, prove me wrong, Colts. Go out and beat the Ravens.

CORNISH: All right. Who is next worse?


PESCA: Well, I don't know if they're next worse, but let's talk about a team that's actually favored, the Houston Texans. They were cruising in the beginning of the season. They might have clinched the AFC's top seed, but they have lost three of their last four games, and it might be due to bad luck. They've had so many injuries. Their defense just isn't very good. They have an excellent rush game. But losing three out of four games that you want to win argues for being on a deep decline.

I know why they're favored because they have the same matchup as they did last year against Cincinnati. They blew out Cincinnati in this round of the playoffs last year. I guess people don't think Cincinnati is very good, and I agree. They're not very good, but perhaps they're good enough to beat this beaten-up Houston Texans team.

CORNISH: All right. So that was the AFC Conference. What about the NFC?

PESCA: Let's pick on the Vikings, why don't we? The Vikings have a great player in Adrian Peterson. He has a good line. Now, quick, name another player who's good on their offense. Not - there's not one other player in a skilled position who's even above average. And their quarterback is really so bad - Christian Ponder - that in the NFL, in this pass-happy NFL, it's very hard to think that they could mount a charge and beat the Packers. And I know you're going to say, wait a minute, the Packers were playing for a buy last week, and they lost to the Vikings last week.

It is true. Again, it's the vagaries of the NFL. Even if I'm telling you that statistically the Vikings aren't good, they could come up and win. Of course, they could win.

CORNISH: All right, Mike, if you're calling all these teams such losers...

PESCA: Losers.

CORNISH: ...who wins?

PESCA: What are they doing here? NFL wins. Last year, 35 million to 40 million people watched these games. The ratings are fantastic. If I told you, hey, you know what I'm going to do the next two weekends? I'm going to settle in and watch a doubleheader on Saturday and a doubleheader on Sunday and then do it again the next weekend. There's no other sport that someone could say that about. If someone said that to you about that's what I'm going to do with baseball games, just watch two games every weekend, you'd think they were actually a Major League Baseball scout, but it's just de rigueur with the NFL fans. It's an extremely popular sport. I don't know why with these 11-and-5 Colts. It makes no sense to me.

CORNISH: NPR's Mike Pesca. Thank you so much, Mike.

PESCA: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mike Pesca first reached the airwaves as a 10-year-old caller to a New York Jets-themed radio show and has since been able to parlay his interests in sports coverage as a National Desk correspondent for NPR based in New York City.
Over two decades of journalism, Audie Cornish has become a recognized and trusted voice on the airwaves as co-host of NPR's flagship news program, All Things Considered.