Posted by Ryan Wilson
Last week, for the first time, we saw real progress in this NFL labor mess. There's still a long way to go but it's something. With the possibility of losing games -- or worse, canceling the season -- we'll take it.
A lot can happen between now and an eventual resolution, which means the league needs contingency plans. According to SportsBusiness Journal's Daniel Kaplan, that includes planning for a shortened NFL season, even one that includes as few as eight games.
Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com writes that "An eight-game season would begin in late November, with a whopping five weeks allowed for free agency, training camps, and maybe a single preseason game. This would require a deal to be reached in October."
One of the concerns about players and owners finding common ground and ending the lockout is that the timing could throw free agency and training camp schedules out of whack. Five weeks isn't much time to cram it all in, but this sounds like an End of Days, worst-case scenario where the only other alternative is forget about the 2011 season altogether and start over in 2012.
As Florio points out, the 1982 strike-shortened season was nine games and 16 of the then-28 teams made the playoffs. That it has happened before is hardly a reason for the two sides to drag their feet on getting a deal done tout suite.
For fun, we took a look back to Week 9 of the previous five NFL seasons. Not every team had played eight games up to that point, but it serves as a proxy for our purposes here. Namely: to see how many teams were atop the standings at the midway point of the season and ended up in the playoffs. Because one argument against the shortened season (other than it takes away from the entirety of the NFL experience that stretches from September to February) is that teams can get on a two-month hot streak and win a Super Bowl. It's the cousin to Billy Beane's theory for why the Moneyball approach to winning baseball games goes out the window in the posteason.
Anyway, to the time machine:
2006, Week 9 ('*' means team made playoffs)
7-0: Bears*, Colts*
5-2: Giants*, Chargers*, Broncos, Falcons, Ravens*, Saints*
4-3: Bengals, Cowboys*, Jaguars, Seahawks*, Chiefs*
Colts defeated Bears in Super Bowl
2007, Week 9
6-1: Cowboys*, Packers*
5-2: Steelers*, Jaguars*, Titans*, Lions
4-3: Chargers*, Chiefs, Seahawks*, Browns, Ravens, Redskins*, Panthers
Giants defeated Patriots in Super Bowl
2008, Week 9
6-2: Panthers*, Redskins
5-2: Steelers*, Bills, Patriots
5-3: Cowboys, Bucs
4-3: Eagles*, Packers, Bears, Cards*, Ravens, Broncos, Falcons*, Jets
Steelers defeated Cards in Super Bowl
2009, Week 9
7-0: Saints*, Colts*
5-2: Patriots*, Bengals*, Steelers, Cowboys*, Eagles*
5-3: Texans, Giants
4-3: Ravens*, Falcons, Packers*, Cards*, Chargers*, Bears,
Saints defeated Colts in Super Bowl
2010, Week 9
5-2: Ravens*, Steelers*, Jets*, Colts*, Falcons*, Giants, Chiefs*, Bucs
5-3: Packers*, Titans, Saints*
4-3: Eagles*, Texans, Dolphins, Bears*, Seahawks*
Packers defeated Steelers in Super Bowl
The takeaway? For the most part, clubs playing well midway through the season usually end up in the playoffs. Specifically, since 2006, 62 percent of teams above .500 through Week 9 qualified for the postseason, and that includes every Super Bowl participant over that period.
So while nobody wants an eight-game NFL season, recent history suggests it won't have much of an impact on the eventual champion. But that's no reason to drag things out. The sooner the lockout ends, the better for everybody.
For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnfl on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed.