The announcement Tuesday that NFL owners voted to add a wild-card team from each conference to the league’s annual title tournament after the 2020 season spurred the release of several lists ranking past would-be No. 7 seeds that might have benefited most: the 2012 Bears and their dominant defense, the 1991 49ers who got Steve Young back late, etc.
How might Philadelphia have been affected?
By association, Andy Reid, who finally earned his ring with the Chiefs in February, might have had to wait another year.
More directly: The Eagles never would have won their Super Bowl. That’s right: Saint Nick never would have come home, and the Philly Special would have moldered in Press Taylor’s three-ring binder.
Why? Because Chip Kelly’s 2014 Eagles, who had made the playoffs in 2013, narrowly missed a return trip. They would have been that year’s No. 7 seed in the NFC and they would have traveled to Green Bay for their playoff game. Yes, they had lost there, 53-20, six weeks before; and yes, they probably would have lost again in the playoffs. But that isn’t the point.
Kelly was fired after going 6-9 in the first 15 games in 2015. He had become a predictable boor on the field and was an unmitigated disaster as the general manager: In the course of his first two years, he engineered the departure of receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, guards Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans, running back LeSean McCoy, and, of course, Nick Foles, and each position got worse.
But, had the Eagles earned that seventh playoff slot in 2014, Kelly would have gone to the playoffs in each of his first two seasons as an NFL head coach. There’s no way Jeffrey Lurie would have fired him. Not in 2015, anyway.
That means the Eagles wouldn’t have hired Doug Pederson to replace him in 2016, which means, even if Kelly had been fired a year later, Pederson wouldn’t have hired Frank Reich as his offensive coordinator. This is relevant because of what Carson Wentz meant to the team in his first two seasons. It was Reich who stumped hardest to draft Wentz over Jared Goff in 2016, and it was Reich’s eye that realized Wentz was ready as a rookie, so the Eagles could trade incumbent starter Sam Bradford on the eve of the 2016 season. It was Reich who guided Wentz to an MVP-caliber season through the first 13 games of the 2017 season, until Wentz got hurt; a 13-game stretch that helped secure the No. 1 overall seed in the playoffs.
If Kelly had earned another year in Philadelphia, the Eagles certainly wouldn’t have signed Foles before the 2017 season, because Foles probably would have retired before the 2016 season; Foles said the only reason he stayed in football in 2016 was to play for the man who drafted him in Philadelphia: Reid. Foles backed up Alex Smith with the Chiefs in 2016, a position that -- had Kelly remained in Philadelphia another year -- would still have been occupied by Chase Daniel, who had followed Pederson to Philadelphia in 2016.
The trade of Bradford recouped for the Eagles a 2017 first-round pick, having used theirs a year earlier to move up to snag Wentz. They used that first-round pick on defensive end Derek Barnett.
Barnett recovered Tom Brady’s late fourth-quarter fumble that led to a field goal and virtually assured the Eagles’ 41-33 Super Bowl win.
So, a No. 7 seed in 2014 would have begotten another year of Chip Kelly. And if he had stayed, there would have been no Barnett, no “Big Play” Nick, and no Philly Special.
On the other end of consequences, had there been a No. 7 seed this past offseason, there’s a good chance Reid would still be the best coach in the free-agency era to never win a Super Bowl.
On Tuesday, the No. 2 seeds in each conference lost their precious bye week. The Chiefs were the AFC’s No. 2 seed. Big Red likely would have missed his big chance. Without the bye, his team would have lacked the energy to finish the job.
The Chiefs would have hosted a struggling Steelers team with an 8-8 record, but any game would have made the Chiefs’ road to a title tougher. They demolished an exhausted Texans team that needed nearly 12 minutes of overtime to beat the Bills the previous week -- a Texans team that still held a 24-0 lead over the Chiefs after almost 20 minutes of play. The Texans collapsed in the final 40.
The Chiefs then beat a Titans club that had traveled to New England and to Baltimore for their first two playoff games, where they faced the league’s No. 1 and No. 3 scoring defenses, respectively.
Reid and the Chiefs didn’t face a fresh club until he was welcomed to Miami. There, his team more outlasted the 49ers than it outplayed them. The 49ers were the NFC’s No. 1 seed. They would have held the bye-week advantage. As it was, the teams had equal rest.
There are bigger reasons to despise the seventh playoff team, chiefly because it makes clearer than ever that NFL owners care less for the health of their players than the health of their own bank accounts. Next up: adding a 17th regular-season game for the 2021 season.
This will make a playoff bye even more precious. All 14 Super Bowl participants in the last seven years enjoyed a first-round bye.
Which means, of course, all seven Super Bowl winners had a bye, including the two No. 2′s that won it all: Reid’s Chiefs ... and the 2018 New England Patriots.
This, of course, means that Brady and Bill Belichick might have won one fewer ring.