In honor of the kicking trainwreck that was Sunday night’s 6-6 tie between the Seahawks and Cardinals, I thought it might interesting to see what happened if the NFL never took the step of instituting regular season overtime in 1974. As you may know, the first such game invoking the rule was when the Broncos hosted the Steelers that year–and it still ended in a tie. The only other time the rule was invoked that year was a Big Apple showdown between the Giants and Jets. And if you know anything about football in New York in 1970s, it was very pathetic, so the outcome of that game did not affect any playoff seedings.
But if ties at the end of regulation remained that way after 1974, there would indeed be changes in fortune for several teams. The following is a list of how playoff teams and seedings would have changed–and yes, we’ll have to ignore a bunch of alternate history butterflies that would take place in making the difference between a team going deep in the playoffs, or firing the coach and front office after barely missing them.
And be forewarned: this universe is not kind to the Broncos, so we should all be grateful that regular season overtime exists.
This is one of the few years in the mid-70s in which someone was able to crash the usual Steelers/Dolphins/Raiders party, and that was the Ted Marchibroda/Bert Jones Baltimore Colts. But without overtime, the Dolphins turn a loss into a tie that extends their playoff streak to six years. Making the playoffs at 10-3-1 would have also forced the Raiders, at 9-3-2 to travel to Miami.
The Bears and Vikings would both finish at 8-4-2, including a tie against each other. That would have been fatal for the Vikings, who would not only lose the NFC Central to losing the other game against Chicago, but be bounced out of the playoffs altogether in favor of a 9-5 Redskins squad, who would then be chanting “We Want Dallas!” for the first round on the NFC side.
Here’s the first bad news for Broncos fans: they would have seen a win turned into a tie, and at 9-6-1 finished half a game behind 9-5-2 New England for the fifth and (at the time) final wild card.
A critical tie game would have happened between the Chargers and Raiders, sending Oakland to the #1 seed at 11-4-1 and San Diego tumbling down all the way to the #5 seed at 10-4-2, with the Oilers moving up to #4 at 11-4-1. It sure would have been nice if perhaps forcing the Browns to travel to Oakland (or better, hosting the AFCCG) would somehow butterfly away Red Right 88…
The AFC East standings would have been scrambled–the Dolphins, Jets and Bills would have all still made the playoffs, but the Jets would have been the #2 seed at 10-4-2, the Bills #4 at 10-5-1, and the Dolphins #5 at 9-4-3.
In the NFC, the Bears would have won the NFC Central instead of the Lions for the #3 seed. In the AFC, the seedings would be swapped for the Dolphins (now #1 at 12-3-1) and Raiders (#2, still at 12-4), as well as for the Broncos (#4 still at 9-7) and Seahawks (#5 at 8-7-1). With the wild card game now at Mile High, could the Broncos beat the Seahawks? And if so, could they have gotten over their Florida blues and upset Miami? And even if the Broncos can’t do that, could things at least meet minimal acceptance with the Raiders losing in Miami?
There will be no 11-5 Broncos missing the playoffs–they instead squeak in with a 9-3-4 record ahead of the Jets at 10-5-1. The Patriots would improve to the #4 seed at 11-4-1, and once again the #1 seed would go to the 12-4 Dolphins, instead of a 10-3-3 Raiders squad. On the NFC side, the Gibbs/Parcells war has a chapter changed, as turning a win into a tie for the Giants sees them bounced out of the playoffs in favor of the Redskins. The 49ers would also improve to the #4 seed, moving the NFC Wild Card Game to San Francisco.
If The Drive is going to still happen, it’ll have to happen in Denver, as the Browns would fall all the way to the #3 seed at 10-4-2. Turning a win against the Dolphins into a tie also bounces the Jets out of the playoffs, with the AFC Wild Card Game now becoming Seattle at Kansas City, with the winner taking on their common AFC West foe in Denver.
In the first year of expanding to 12 teams in the playoffs, the only change would be changing the site of the Oilers/Bengals game to Houston, as the Oilers would win the AFC Central at 9-6-1, with Cincinnati at 8-6-2. In the Astrodome, would the Oilers be able to do better than get creamed 41-14 by their division rival?
Lots of changes on the NFC side here, the new seeding would be: New Orleans at #2 (11-4-1), Detroit #3 (11-4-1), Dallas #4 (11-4-1), Chicago #5 (10-4-2), and San Francisco #6 (10-6), with Atlanta getting bounced from the playoffs at 9-6-1. But let’s be honest, none of those teams were going to take down the dominant 1991 Redskins, still at #1.
Buffalo wins the AFC East at 11-4-1 over Miami. This would then cause the AFC’s three wild cards to be the Chiefs at 10-5-1, the Dolphins also at 10-5-1, and the Oilers at 9-6-1.
Revenge for the playoff comeback of 1992 could happen in Houston, as the Bills would see a win turned into a tie to fall to 11-4-1 and lose out the #1 seed to the Oilers, still at 12-4
More misery for Lions fans, as they get bounced from the playoffs when the Giants turn a loss into a tie to move up to 9-6-1.
Lots of changes this year. On the AFC side, the most critical by far is the Raiders bouncing the Colts from the playoffs. This is not good, because that means Jim Harbaugh won’t get to upset the heavily favored Chiefs. The AFC Wild Card Games instead would have been Raiders at Bills and Chargers at Dolphins. It’s alarmingly likely that an AFC West rival could have gone to the Super Bowl.
But the good news is that the Cowboys likely still would have crushed the AFC representative, as they barely hold onto the #1 seed at 11-4-1 over the Packers at the same record thanks to their regular season win over Green Bay. The 49ers fall to #3, still at 11-5, while the Bears bounce the Falcons from the playoffs in turning a loss into a tie to go 9-6-1. This also improves the Lions to the #3 seed and demotes the Eagles to #5.
Jacksonville and Indianapolis would see their records changed from 9-7 to 8-6-2, but the tiebreakers would flip their seeds. That means those damn 1996 Jaguars would have to travel to Pittsburgh in the Wild Card round instead of Buffalo. Can the Steelers pretty please do their job there so the Broncos can instead take out one of the Colts or Bills at Mile High the next week?
The Jaguars at 11-4-1 would win the AFC Central instead of the Steelers at 8-5-3, thus flipping the #2 and #5 seeds. No worries, the Broncos’ path to the Super Bowl would be Steelers > Chiefs > Jaguars instead of Jaguars > Chiefs > Steelers.
Only change here is that the seedings of the three AFC East playoff teams gets swapped. Whatever, Broncos are still going back to back this year.
Only change this year would be the location of the Bucs/Eagles Wild Card Game gets moved to Tampa. Could the Bucs do better at home than the 21-3 egg they laid in Philadelphia?
In the NFC, the stalwart Packers win the NFC Central at 12-4 thanks to the one hit wonder Bears turning two wins into ties at 11-3-2. But a more critical team seeing two wins turn into ties are the Patriots, who lose the AFC East to the Dolphins and fall all the way to the #6 seed, meaning that they have to travel to Oakland instead of the Raiders traveling to snowy Foxboro and getting tuck ruled to oblivion. Tom Brady better find a way to still create some magic in the fairer weather of his home region.
As they should have done in real life, the Broncos make the playoffs with an 8-5-3 record. The locations of the Jets/Colts Wild Card Game and Bucs/Eagles NFC Championship Game also get swapped.
East come, easy go: this year the Broncos miss the playoffs with a 9-6-1 record thanks to an inexplicable tie in regulation against the Browns. The Dolphins edge them out at 9-5-2. The Packers and Panthers also get their seeds at #3 and #4 swapped.
The Panthers would make the playoffs as the #6 seed instead of the Vikings, meaning that Randy Moss never gets to fake moon Packers fans. On the AFC side, the seeds of the Chargers and Colts swap, meaning that the Broncos would travel to San Diego against Indianapolis. That’s better news for Roc Alexander, who only has to deal with Drew Brees instead of Peyton Manning.
The AFC North champion would be Steelers with an 11-3-2 record, meaning that their Wild Card Game against the Bengals would be in Pittsburgh. Does Kimo Von Oelhoffen still blow out Carson Palmer’s knee, and if not, can the Bengals stop the Steelers’ storybook Super Bowl run? If so, remember that the Broncos could still have to travel to Indy for the AFC Championship Game…
Sadly, turning the 49ers overtime loss into a tie still doesn’t get the Broncos in the playoffs, as they also beat the Chiefs in overtime that year. Only change here is the Panthers bouncing the Giants out with an 8-7-1 record.
Again, only change is the NFC’s #6 seed: the Vikings at 8-6-2 over the Redskins at 7-7-2.
Brace yourselves: the Patriots don’t miss the playoffs this year, as they turn a loss into a tie to edge out the Dolphins for the AFC East at 11-4-1.
This time, it’s the Steelers bouncing out the Ravens at 8-5-3 for the #6 AFC seed. Could they still do what Baltimore did in eliminating the Patriots in the first round that year?
Two division champions are switched, and it implicates both Super Bowl participants: Baltimore (10-3-3) instead of Pittsburgh (10-4-2), and Green Bay (10-4-2) instead of Chicago (11-5). Do the new playoff paths still allow for a Steelers/Packers Super Bowl?
You had to know this was coming: absolutely no Tebow playoff magic thanks to all those crazy overtime wins becoming ties. Instead, we have to stare at Philip Rivers flustering at home because Steelers fans have invaded Qualcomm once again in the playoffs.
Only the NFC side gets scrambled: Green Bay is the #1 seed at 12-4, Dallas #2 at 11-3-2, Seattle #3 at 11-4-1, and New Orleans bounces out Carolina in the terrible NFC South at 6-7-3. Could the Seahawks even make it back to the Super Bowl if they have to host Detroit and then go to Dallas and (presumably) Green Bay, where maybe Mike McCarthy gets more aggressive at home on 4th and goal, and Brandon Bostick doesn’t get unnerved on special teams?
And last, and absolutely least, prepare yourself…
Remember how before the Cincinnati game Week 16, the Broncos could have ended up anywhere from the #1 seed to out of the playoffs entirely? Well guess what? Thanks to three overtime wins turning into ties, the Broncos fall all the way to the #6 seed, with everyone else except the Texans moving up a seed. What do you think the odds are of the Broncos getting to the Super Bowl by having to go through Arrowhead, Gillette, and likely Heinz?
In the NFC, the wild cards get swapped, meaning the NFC Wild Card Games are Washington at Seattle and Green Bay at Minnesota.