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The What Coulda Been (WCB) Tournament: the at-large selections and seeding

Posted by Jason Lisk on March 12, 2010

I suppose I could have titled this the March Sadness tournament as well.

Here's the idea. To mirror the NCAA Basketball Tournament that is going to be taking place over the next several weeks, we are going to do a 64-team field simulation tournament of NFL teams. I could have chosen any number of criteria, but this tournament is going to be for all those teams in the Super Bowl era who came up just a little short. It's the best of the not-quite-best. The woulda-shoulda-couldas. The "close only counts in hand grenades and horseshoes" crowd. Or if you prefer, the Vikings and Bills chance at redemption (or additional heartbreak).

History only remembers the victors, but here at the PFR blog we like to shine the light on some of history's other teams. So here is how it is going to work. Much like the NCAA tournament has several automatic selections that go to teams that win their conference, even if they would not be strong enough to get in as an at-large, every team that won its conference (or league from 1966-1969) and then lost in the Super Bowl gets an automatic bid into the tournament. That fills forty-four of our sixty-four slots.

The remaining twenty slots are going to be filled by at-large selections with teams that lost before reaching the Super Bowl. I have several somewhat loose criteria for making my at-large selections:

1) team win-loss record
2) SRS rating to show dominance
3) when the team lost in the playoffs (losing in Championship game rates higher than a wildcard loss)
4) who did you lose to in the playoffs (losing to the eventual Super Bowl champion/other dominant team rates higher)
5) how did you lose (heartbreaking losses or historically memorable games get bonus points)
6) an attempt of rough equality of at-large selections over time so there is no era bias in our selections
7) is this team already adequately represented by other teams from the same franchise and era that are already in the tourney? For example, the 1975 Vikings might otherwise be in, since they were the top team in the conference and lost at home in the Hail Mary game, but they are more than adequately represented already by the 1973, 1974 and 1976 squads.

Once we get the field of 64 set and seeded, the games will be decided by running the simulations through the What If Sports website, and game links to each simulation will be posted. The higher seed will host the games in the first two rounds, and the weather conditions for the game will be based on current temperatures in that city. The regional semifinals and finals will take place in four venues: New Orleans, Tampa, Los Angeles, and Houston. The Final Four will meet at the site of this year's Super Bowl and in the city that has hosted the most Super Bowls-Miami.

Since these games will be simulated, once the field is set, I have no control over the outcome. We will have upsets and the outcome will not be predetermined. It should, hopefully, be a fun and frivolous ride.

Now, let's get to setting the field. With those at-large criteria in mind, I am making the following at-large selections. These are the teams that would mostly be high seeds anyway, and I suspect would be on most people's short list of best and/or most heartbreaking teams to not make a Super Bowl. The following teams are in as at-larges:

1976 Pittsburgh Steelers. This team has the highest SRS of any non-Super Bowl team, and it brings the Steelers dynasty, as this team falls right in the middle of the four Super Bowls.

1994 Dallas Cowboys. This team was arguably just as good as the Dallas teams around it that won three Super Bowls, and the Cowboys lost to the Niners in the championship game.

1967 Los Angeles Rams. This is the team that beat the Colts out for the Coastal Division Title and had only one loss, but then had to travel to play Green Bay in the cold despite having the superior record, and lost to eventual Super Bowl II Champion Packers. This brings in the Fearsome Foursome (rest in peace, Merlin Olsen) to our tournament.

1992 San Fransisco 49ers. I chose this one over the 1990 and 1993 versions that were in close proximity, as this franchise might have won multiple titles but for the Cowboys.

2004 Pittsburgh Steelers. This is the 15-1 team that lost at home to eventual Super Bowl Champion New England, led by a rookie Ben Roethlisberger.

1998 Minnesota Vikings. Another 15-1 team that lost in heartbreak fashion at home to the Atlanta Falcons and featured a rookie Randy Moss and the revival of Randall Cunningham.

2005 Indianapolis Colts. This selection brings in the mid-decade Colts, and this team was the #1 seed and lost to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Steelers in heartbreaking fashion.

1981 Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys appeared in three straight championship games from 1980-1982, and this version gets the nod because of "The Catch".

1987 San Fransisco 49ers. This team went 13-2 in the regular season, and the Niners would go on to win the next two Super Bowls.

1986 Chicago Bears. This team was just as dominant defensively as the Super Bowl shuffle version from the year before, and posted a 14-2 record, but were upset by Washington at home in the semifinals.

1987 Cleveland Browns. This was the Fumble game. This team may not be as strong as the other at-larges above, but if we are going to have a What Coulda Been tournament, don't we have to have a Cleveland team from the mid-80's, to represent the Drive and the Fumble? I went with this version over the previous year's team because of a higher SRS rating.

Okay, so that is 11 entries. There is a 12th entry that I am also making. The Air Coryell San Diego Chargers have to be represented in this tourney as well. I just cannot decide yet between the 1979, 1980 and 1981 versions. The 1979 version has by far the highest SRS, but lost before the championship game. The other two versions reached the championship game, with the 1980 team losing to eventual champion Raiders, and the 1981 team winning the unforgettable game in Miami, only to lose in the coldest game in playoff history in the championship game. I guess I'm leaning 1981 at this point, but am throwing this one open for debate.

The remaining 8 slots are left to be determined. Here are the "bubble" teams in my mind (in chronological order), though you can certainly recommend someone else:

1966 Dallas Cowboys
1967 Baltimore Colts
1969 Los Angeles Rams
1972 Pittsburgh Steelers
1973 Los Angeles Rams
1974 Oakland Raiders
1975 Saint Louis Cardinals
1980 Atlanta Falcons
1982 New York Jets
1983 San Fransisco 49ers
1989 Los Angeles Rams
1993 Houston Oilers
1996 Carolina Panthers
1996 Denver Broncos
1997 Kansas City Chiefs
1998 New York Jets
1999 Jacksonville Jaguars
2000 Oakland Raiders
2002 Philadelphia Eagles
2005 Denver Broncos
2006 San Diego Chargers
2006 Baltimore Ravens
2007 Green Bay Packers
2007 Dallas Cowboys
2008 Tennessee Titans
2009 Minnesota Vikings

So, feel free to post your remaining 8 at-large selections, stuff the ballot box for your favorite teams, and if you have any input on which Air Coryell team should be in, note that too. You can also make any suggestions about seeding and those will be taken into account as well, such as who your #1 seeds would be, or who should be seeded #16. The plan is to post the brackets some time next week in a single bracket announcement post, so that the ever-popular bracket pools can get started, and then start posting each round (probably two posts for each half of the first round) starting thereafter. Hopefully, we will get through this along with the NCAA tournament schedule and conclude in early April.