Which Sport Has The Best Postseason?
So which sport/league has the best postseason? And why? More often than not, it will be your favorite sport. Fair. But how to you rate which one is actually the best? I ranked them, based on the following criteria – Format, Timeliness, Quality of teams, Quality of games, and Regular season impact. Here they are. Note – I ranked only the ones people actually watch. I am sure water polo’s postseason is riveting. But, I left it out. My apologies.
National Basketball Association
Format – Top 8 teams from each Conference get in, seeded overall by record. Eight 7 game Conference Quarterfinal series, four 7 game Conference Semifinal series, two 7 game Conference Final series, and one 7 game NBA Finals. Same series length throughout the Playoffs. When you factor in the amount of 1st round sweeps, definitely an argument to be made to shorten (or even eliminate) the 1st round. Score – 6
Timeliness – The entire NBA Playoffs take upwards of 2 full months. The first couple rounds are good…multiple series going on, games every night. Glaring flaw though, there are 2, sometimes 3 days off in-between games in a series. Huge momentum killer, for both fans and teams. Score – 3
Quality of teams – There are 30 teams in the NBA, and 16 qualify for the postseason. That’s over half! 53% to be exact. Way too many. More often than not, there are sub-.500 teams playing in the postseason. Unworthy in my opinion. Score – 4
Quality of games – Seeing that over half of the teams get into the Playoffs, as you’d expect, there are a lot of clunker games. The first 2 rounds feature several sweeps, with the final four basically a given before the Playoffs even start. The Conference Finals and Finals usually do produce some classic games, which slightly makes up for it. But barely. Score – 5
Regular season impact – Common theme…too many teams make it. Meaning you can be barely at .500, or even below it, and still make the Playoffs. Further evidence of the regular season meaning nothing…many key players take several days off for “load management” to be ready for the Playoffs. I personally don’t have a problem with that concept, but it tells you a lot about how much the regular season means. Score - 3
National Hockey League
Format – Top 8 teams from each Conference get in, seeded overall by record. Eight 7 game Conference Quarterfinal series, four 7 game Conference Semifinal series, two 7 game Conference Final series, and one 7 game Stanley Cup Finals. Same series length throughout the Playoffs. But unlike basketball, these early round series are not foregone conclusions. They are usually very competitive, and upsets are not all that uncommon. Score – 9
Timeliness – The entire NHL Playoffs take upwards of 2 full months. The flow is perfect the first couple rounds with so many series going on, but just like the NBA, there are way too many days off in-between games within a series. Momentum killer. Score – 3
Quality of teams – There are 31 teams in the NBA, and 16 qualify for the postseason. Like the NBA again, over half. 52% to be exact. However, unlike the NBA, many of these lower seeds have a legitimate chance of taking down the higher seeds. Happens all the time. Score – 7
Quality of games – I will be the first to admit, I do not watch a lot of hockey. But from what I read and hear (friends and sports talk radio), these games tend to be very exciting. Like, talk about it the next day exciting. With the majority of teams seemingly having a legit shot at winning it all, as you’d expect, there are some epic games, as evidenced by the amount of overtime games. Score – 8
Regular season impact – Again, like the NBA, over half the teams make the Playoffs and it has an 82 game schedule. Until the latter quarter of the season, the regular season games don’t feel like they mean a whole lot. At least the players don’t take as many days off as NBA’ers, so they do have that going. Score - 4
Format – This comes down to what is the postseason? Technically all Bowl Games are postseason, but if the goal is to win a Championship, those Bowl Games won’t do it. It’s all about the College Football Playoff (CFP), which essentially is the final four. Format is what you’d expect. Two Semifinal games, and 1 Championship Game. Although this is better than what we had before (BCS), I still think they could easily expand to 6 or 8 teams. Too many championship-quality teams being left out. Score – 6
Timeliness – Again, talking only about the College Football Playoff, there is very little timing aspect to consider. Two Semifinals on a Saturday…then the Championship Game 16 days later. 16 days later?!?! A full week after the rest of the Bowls are done. Move that up a week. Score – 3
Quality of teams – Seeing that there are 130 Division I football teams, and only 4 (3%) make it into the Playoff, tough to say that the quality isn’t the best. You could argue the wrong teams make it in, and that’s fair. But either way, it’s the best of the best. Score – 10
Quality of games – The College Football Playoff started back in the 2014 season, so there have been 5 postseasons in that format thus far. Surprisingly, the quality of the games has not been outstanding. The Semifinals have produced 2 very good games (2015 Ohio State over Alabama, 2018 Georgia over Oklahoma (2 OT)), but overall the average margin of victory has been 21 points. Not great. The Championship Games have been more competitive, but still have an average margin of 12. Also not great. Score – 5
Regular season impact – With only 3% of the teams getting into the College Football Playoff, the regular season means everything. Unless you’re a big-name school (Alabama, Ohio State, Notre Dame, etc), 1 loss will usually completely ruin your chances of getting in. Every game is a playoff game. Score – 10
Major League Baseball
Format – All 3 Division winners from both Leagues get a birth, with 2 Wild Card teams from each as well. Two Wild Card Games, four 5 game League Divisional Series, two 7 game League Championship Series, and one 7 game World Series. Length of series get longer as the Playoffs advance. Score – 8
Timeliness – The entire MLB Playoffs takes about exactly 1 month. October baseball! Perfect amount of time to take in anywhere between 20 and 43 postseason games. Also minimal days off in-between games and series, which is a bonus. Score – 10
Quality of teams – There are 30 teams in the MLB, and only 10 qualify for the postseason. That is about 31%. And 4 of those 10 teams only qualify for the Wild Card game, meaning 2 go home after that 1 game. When you consider how good many of the teams who don’t make it are, you are looking at the top 25% that make the “real” Playoffs. Score – 8
Quality of games – Postseason baseball games are pretty hit or miss. For every epic finish, there are a bunch of clunkers. Good pitching is usually a theme in the postseason, so unless you like pitcher’s duels, the Playoffs aren’t for you. I personally love low-scoring games, but most love shootouts. Score – 5
Regular season impact – With only about 30% of the teams making the Playoffs, the regular season means a lot. However, with 162 regular season games, it makes many games in April and May seem pretty meaningless. Score – 6
Format – For the sake of this article, I will only focus on the NCAA Tournament. Because, well, does anyone care about the NIT, CIT, or CBI? No. So, the NCAA Tournament consists of 68 teams, 8 of which play in a play-in game. Sorry, “opening round game”. Whatever. It is a single elimination bracket, with 32 games the first Thursday/Friday; 16 games the first Saturday/Sunday; 8 games the following Thursday/Friday; 4 games that Saturday/Sunday; 2 games the Saturday after that, and the Championship Game that Monday. March Madness! Only ding is that opening round game. Change it back to 64 teams please. Score – 9
Timeliness – The entire Tournament takes just under 3 weeks. That is 67 games! Aside from the play-in games and the Championship Game, all games are played Thursday through Sunday. One of the more exciting 3 weeks in sports. Only possible downfall could be the full week off in-between the Elite Eight and the Final Four, but that is minimal (and probably necessary). Score – 10
Quality of teams – There are currently 353 Division I basketball teams, 68 of which make the Tourney. That is under 20%, meaning, you have the best of the best. For the most part at least…often times power conference teams get left out for the Conference winners, but that’s the beauty of it. And as history has shown, those smaller schools sometimes do have what it takes to make a deep run. There are some blowouts in the early round games, but they are not guaranteed like they used to be. Right Virginia? Score – 9
Quality of games – Of all the postseasons in sports, this is the one where you know there are going to be several nail-biting, epic finishes. With 67 games, it’s somewhat inevitable. Almost every year we see a 3 or 4 go down in the 1st Round, and a small Cinderella school making a deep run has been commonplace the last couple decades. Sure, there are a handful of blowouts (remember, there are 67 games played), but overall the quality of the games is top-notch. Score – 8
Regular season impact – This is a tough one, and it all depends on your conference. If you’re in a mid-major conference, the regular season means very little, because if you win your Conference Tournament, you’re in. For the major conferences, the regular season has a little more significance. The winners of the Conference Tournaments are in (32 total), which leaves 36 at-large bids. Usually about 40-45 teams are fighting for those bids, which gives a lot of credence to the regular season. Score - 5
National Football League
Format – All 4 Division winners from each Conference get in, plus 2 Wild Cards from each. Top 2 teams from each Conference get a 1st round bye. Four Wild Card Games, four Divisional Games, two Conference Championship Games, and one Super Bowl. Perfect format since it gives 4 teams an advantage with the bye. Score – 9
Timeliness – Wild Card Weekend (2 Saturday, 2 Sunday), Divisional Weekend (2 Saturday, 2 Sunday), and Championship weekend (2 Sunday) are 3 consecutive weekends. Naturally. One weekend off, then Super Bowl Sunday. Great timing. Only ding would be the additional week off in-between the Conference Championships and the Super Bowl. Score – 9
Quality of teams – There are 32 teams in the NFL, and 12 qualify for the postseason. That is 37.5% of the teams. Enough where most good teams get in, and also keeps the bad ones out. About the perfect balance. Score – 9
Quality of games – Just like any regular season NFL game, the quality is hit or miss. Plenty of thrillers, and plenty of duds. Average margin of victory in each round’s games – Wild Card, 12 points; Divisional, 12 points; Championship, 13 points; Super Bowl, 10 points. Score – 6
Regular season impact – With 37.5% of the teams making it, coupled with a short 16 week season, every game means something. Usually with about 4 games left, all teams except for the bottom-feeders are still alive. And often times coming into week 17, there are several teams still fighting for the last few spots. Usually produces very exciting weekends of football. Score – 9
Alright, tell me how I’m wrong! Especially you hockey fans, I know I’ll get a strong (and probably legit) argument from you.
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1 thought on “Which Sport Has The Best Postseason?”
Love all the leagues on this list, but the NHL has the most competitive compelling and unpredictable playoff of them all
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