Ranking Playoff Formats of Big 5 Sports

     The MLB playoffs have started, which means for many people that it’s time to start watching baseball.  For baseball fans, this is the culmination of six months of regular season games, and a time to see the very best create their legacies.  I’ve picked the Los Angeles Dodgers to win the World Series this year for a number of reasons, one of them being that they have basically a given win in every series they play thanks to a guy named Clayton Kershaw.  However, that’s not what I want to talk about today.

     I’m going to rank the playoffs of all the big 5 team sports in the U.S. (NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, MLS) and give my case for what sport I believe has the best playoffs.  This will be a combination of the number of teams that make the playoffs, the different match-up lengths such as best-of-7 series and single elimination, and of course, how exciting to follow and fun to watch they are.
     Here are my rankings for the best playoff formats.
     #5: MLS – Major League Soccer takes the bottom spot in my rankings for a few obvious reasons, the biggest one being that I don’t think the MLS should even have playoffs, which is something I mentioned in my problems with the MLS post, found here: http://toplevelsports.blogspot.com/2014/07/the-6-biggest-problems-with-mls.html.  Basically, as I mention in the post, every team plays each other home and away, meaning there is no schedule favoritism, basically negating the need for a playoff system.  Additionally, over half of the teams in the league (10 of 19) make the playoffs, which I believe is far too many.  I think they should do a championship game between the best place in each conference if the MLS really wants a playoff, or instead have a domestic cup.  I still have another major gripe with the MLS’ playoff system.  The wild card round, conference semifinals, and conference finals are two-leg series, where each team plays home and away.  However, the final is only one game.  I understand that it creates a big atmosphere surrounding the game, but I just don’t like the concept of having a shorter finals.  And as for marketing, most people don’t even know its happening when it is, so the MLS playoffs can’t really be any higher on the list.
     #4: MLB – The MLB takes fourth place, and while it could have moved up to third place potentially, it suffers from many flaws.  First off is the inconsistency of length in each playoff round.  I personally think it’s ridiculous that a sport with a 162 game regular season has only a one game wild card, meaning the second wild card team potentially doesn’t play a single playoff game at home prior to elimination.  This isn’t as big a problem in the NFL where the season is 10x shorter, but in baseball I think it’s crazy.  Then there is a five game divisional round, and seven game league championship and World Series championship series’.  I would be in favor of making all series leading up to the World Series five games, and the World Series seven, although I still think it’s too short in comparison to the season length.  As for the general feel of each game, it doesn’t feel too much different than the average game to the casual fan, which is a really bad thing for baseball.  These games still suffer from the slow paced, “boring” atmosphere that has destroyed baseball for much of the young market of today.  However it is a reasonable system overall that does enough to get the people who like baseball interested.
     #3: NFL – In comparison to the regular season, the NFL playoffs usually turn out to be a disappointment for me, with two key exceptions in 2007-08 and 2011-12 (the Giants recent Super Bowls).  I didn’t think this was possible, but I feel like the NFL’s playoffs are over-marketed.  Every commercial is focused on the upcoming games, and by kickoff every little detail that may decide the game has been gone over with a fine-toothed comb.  Simply put, every game in the season is exciting as it leads up to seeing who makes the playoffs, but when there is only one game at a time instead of ten, the playoffs can’t live up to the hype.  The Super Bowl is this multiplied by one hundred.  It feels like there is more focus on the halftime show and commercials than the game itself, and many times the game isn’t that great (case in point last season).  Don’t get me wrong: the NFL playoffs are still very enjoyable for football fans, but I just think everything is so overhyped that if a game is anything under terrific it doesn’t meet expectations.  (I know that was a poor explanation so come playoff time it may warrant it’s own post).
     #2: NHL – I’ll be very honest about this one.  I’m not a huge hockey person, and it’s tough to really be one when you spend most of your life in California and Texas, so far away from snow.  However, every year the NHL playoffs turn me into a hockey fan and make me question why I don’t watch the sport more often.  It’s very fast-paced and exciting, and the emotion on the ice and in the stands is really a sight to see.  I think the NHL does a very good job marketing the events, and while the playoffs in both the NHL and NBA are extremely lengthy (16 teams, all best-of-seven series), they do make for some incredibly tense game sevens.  Hockey is unpredictable, and perhaps more so than any other sport, capable of producing wild finishes, such as the unforgettable Boston Bruins comeback against the Canadiens this past year.  Watching these games gives me a real appreciation for the sport, and for that reason it rightfully takes the number two spot on my list.
     #1: NBA – There is simply nothing like basketball playoffs.  The rivalries, the storylines, the presentation on TV, I could really go on and on.  Every year there are polarizing teams such as the Heat, fan favorites like the Spurs, and combinations of historically great teams continuing their legacies as well as young groups, recently the Pacers, Blazers, and Rockets trying to make names for themselves.  Every game counts, and every moment is important in determining who ends up with the title in June.  It’s long, but it’s a thrill ride, and I enjoy every moment of it.  In my opinion, the NBA playoffs are unmatched.
     Thanks for reading,
     Connor

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