From the FanPosts. Good stuff. -Joel
I think this is an interesting topic worthy of a FanPost anytime, but it is especially important now with the greatest free agent ever making his decision in the next couple of days. Basically, the importance of how hard the division your team plays in is vastly underrated in the mainstream media. So much so that I believe it will be (or at least should be) one of the biggest factors in where Manning will decide to play, while people talk about it in passing if they mention it at all.
But playing in an easy division has a large influence on playoff seeding. Not only does it make your schedule easier, but winning your division is necessary to get a first round bye, and if you don't win your division, you have to play three road games to make the Super Bowl. That extra game makes all the difference in the world.
To show you how big of a difference a game makes, I'll assume a team has about an equal chance of winning each individual game. In other words, you have as much chance of winning your first game as you do of winning your second game. With that assumption, calculating the probability of reaching the Super Bowl becomes easy. You simply have to calculate the chance of winning either two or three games in a row. And, because I'm such a nice guy, I did just that.
The horizontal axis marks the probability of winning each individual games, while the vertical axis is the probability of getting to the Super Bowl. The black line is for a team with a first round bye (i.e. only plays two games before the Super Bowl), the pink line is a team who has to play in the wild card round (i.e. plays three games), and the blue line is the difference between them.
To have a 50% chance of reaching the Super Bowl, you need to have a 71% chance of winning each game if you have a bye, but need a 79% chance if you play in the wild card round. In other words, even a dominant team has a less than 50% chance of reaching the Super Bowl no matter what seed they have, but they need to be much more dominant if they want to reach it from the wild card.
When Manning chooses a team, this should weigh heavily on his mind. If his top goal is to win the Super Bowl, then the Chiefs and Broncos are clearly a better choice over the Dolphins, all else being equal. With the Patriots in their division, there is a very real chance that a Manning-led Dolphins team will be a wild card team. Does Manning really believe the Dolphins would be so much better than the Chiefs that he's willing to take such a structural disadvantage? What advantage could the Dolphins possibly have that could make up for this difference? This is why I believe the Dolphins aren't nearly the favorites everybody's making them out to be.
This graph is also why I think he'll pick the Chiefs over the Broncos. We have so much more talent than they do. Getting to the Super Bowl is already very difficult even for the best teams, why would he not want to maximize those odds as much as possible?