NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said the league is considering expanding the playoffs from its current 12-team format to one that could include 14 to 16 teams.
The league’s owners held a special meeting on Wednesday in Dallas and that w
as one of the topics that came up.
Let’s not mistake this for anything other than what it is—a plain, old-fashioned money grab, not that this is a new thing in sports, professional or collegiate. Playoffs in pro sports have proven true the old adage that you can, in fact, have too much of a good thing.
Since the NFL expanded the playoffs to 12 teams—six per conference—in 1990, there have been nine .500 teams and one 7-9 team that have made the playoffs and seven teams with 10 or more wins that have been excluded from the field.
That would seem to be a pretty solid argument against watering down the playoff field, particularly since that 7-9 team—the 2010 Seattle Seahawks—actually got a home game against an 11-5 New Orleans Saints squad that had to go on the road because it was a wild-card entry and the Seahawks were a division champion and, thus, got to host a game in the first round.
The current format works, for the most part. The two best teams in each conference are rewarded with bye weeks, a week off that would go away for at least one of them were the playoff field to be expanded.
Expanding the playoffs dilutes the regular season. One needs look no further than the NBA for an example. Thirty teams slog their way through 82 regular-season games in order to eliminate less than half of the league from the playoffs.
While the league’s broadcast partners try to manufacture drama late in the season with games between teams on the cusp of the playoffs, the reality is that those games are most often “epic battles” between teams that have struggled to win more games than they’ve lost and are positioning themselves to be first-round cannon fodder.
Looking at the NFL playoff standings for this season, with three games remaining, one finds that the 6-7 New York Jets and Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the 5-8 Cleveland Browns, San Diego Chargers, Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins and New Orleans Saints are still alive, albeit mathematically.
But if the playoff field were expanded to 16 teams, for instance, suddenly those same Jets that have been a punch line for most of this season would be the No. 8 seed.
Is that a reality anyone wants?
That is, besides the guys who stand to profit from it?