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Is expanding the NFL playoffs a good or bad thing?

Feb 1, 2014, 12:25 PM EDT


It seems like everything is constantly growing in today’s super-size culture, especially in professional sports where it’s the rule, not the exception and the bubble never seems to burst.

Major League Baseball added two teams to the postseason, inventing a dumbfounding one-game playoff in a sport that almost exclusively holds series of three games or more.

There are whispers of expansion in the NHL, a league that’s endured three lockouts in the last two decades because half of the existing teams already have trouble supporting themselves.

Compared to the above examples, this was eons ago, but the NBA changed its first-round playoff series from drama-filled five-game series to largely pointless seven-game sets.

There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it except cold hard cash. More games and more teams equal more events to televise which in turn equals more money.

The NFL is no different, constantly searching for new ways to squeeze more coin out of the most popular professional sports league in the United States. For instance, every year there is talk of going from a 16- to an 18-game season, an idea I lambasted in the past when it was a much hotter topic.

The 18-game schedule discussion seems to have died down for the most part, maybe because the players weren’t going for it, maybe because NFL commissioner Roger Goodell couldn’t convince fans that’s what they want, because by and large they don’t. That doesn’t mean the league is done trying to expand its TV offerings however.

The latest scheme would be expanding the playoffs, adding one team to each conference’s bracket, and before you groan, you should be aware this is likely going to happen, if not next season, soon. I don’t have any sources on that, I just firmly believe it’s going to happen because honestly, it’s not a difficult sell, not to the people who matter most—the owners and the players’ association.

And would it even be a bad thing? The NFL and MLB are the only of the big four that don’t allow more than 50 percent of the league into the postseason, so naturally traditionalists are concerned an expanded postseason would result in a similarly watered-down playoff field.

Even Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie warned expanding the playoffs might not be the greatest, and he obviously only stands to benefit from the additional TV money and ticket sales. His thoughts on the topic via’s Geoff Mosher:

“We’ve got to be careful,” Lurie said in an interview Friday with the NFL Network. “We’ve always wanted to be a league that it’s not easy to make the playoffs. I think adding one team per conference might work. We’ve got to schedule it in a way where the follow-up games allow for equal preparation for all teams.

On the flip side, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones loves it, probably because his team goes 8-8 every year and would actually have a shot at sneaking in that way if there was an extra berth. Indeed, in 2013, the seventh representative from the AFC would’ve owned an 8-8 record.

Then again, the seventh representative from the NFC would’ve been the 10-6 Arizona Cardinals, a franchise that arguably got shafted by the current format.

Regardless, the last thing I would ever want to see is an 8-8 or 7-9 team playing in the Super Bowl, but then I don’t see that happening under normal circumstances. There’s usually a reason they finished with such a middling record, therefore the playoffs should sort it out and allow the cream to rise to the top either way.

And there’s actually something about the proposed format I like. By adding a seventh team, only one in each conference receives a bye. Why such a nice reward for a squad that finished second? Only the best team truly deserves to have the week off.

Unlike most expansions, I find myself not completely hating the idea because the format is sound and I’m not sure it makes much of a difference on the quality of the product. Essentially, we’re talking about two extra games. Total. That’s it.

If that’s what’s going to break the system, then it’s probably already broken.

  1. Chris D - Feb 1, 2014 at 1:01 PM

    I find the playoff expansion cash-grabs that all the major sports are going for to be unnecessary and embarrassing, but not surprising. I’d probably say that the NFL has the best current format with a reasonably-sized field and reward for the top seeds – something like eliminating the 2nd-seed bye and adding one additional wildcard team won’t ruin it, but also adds nothing in my opinion. Going any further than that I think would really start to be detrimental.

    As far as the other leagues go, the size of the NHL and NBA fields are a joke. The fact that more than half the teams make the playoffs as is suggests to me that the regular season is played with some teams not striving to be the best and get in, but just to avoid being the worst – that hardly seems like the right kind of logic. I think MLB is okay, but the completely unnecessary one-game playoff they’ve added is worthless, and I’ve never liked the 5-game LDS. You play a 162-game regular season just to get yourself into contention, and I think that all the teams that make the playoffs in such a comparably small field deserve the opportunity to compete in a 7-game series.

  2. Broadsthooligans - Feb 1, 2014 at 3:33 PM

    Everybody’s moving towards a European soccer style format. They play league games with the winner of the league getting a championship. They also play a national knockout tournament ( usually with every team from every level entering which obviously isn’t applicable) and the winner gets a cup. Obviously that’s not coming to the NFL anytime soon, but what does that direction mean for the traditional US playoff format.

    • ochospantalones - Feb 1, 2014 at 5:06 PM

      Uh, is ANYONE moving to towards this type of format? I would be fine with this in baseball, but I am not aware of any of the major North American sports considering anything remotely like this.

      • bpmangan - Feb 1, 2014 at 8:55 PM

        No it’s not. No one is. All I was saying is that a lot of leagues (MLB, NCAA Basketball, NFL) are all expanding their playoffs. The polar end of that is the Euro soccer style cup which everyone gets in to. They love their cup, but it’s not as important as the league. I think that adding too much to the playoffs makes them more susceptible to the “madness” of March Madness, and less likely to really come out with the best team.

  3. getitrightthistime - Feb 1, 2014 at 4:14 PM

    It’s only good for Jerry Jones’ weak Cowgirls and bad for every other team.

  4. Atomic Fury - Feb 1, 2014 at 5:10 PM

    I understand why all leagues expand the playoff fields, home teams make a lot more gate hosting playoff games than during the regular season. But I don’t like it. I know the expansion of sports (there were 66 franchises among the four major sports when I got into sports back in 1968) necessitates more divisions and playoff berths but it also dilutes the talent pool.

    Personally, I think all leagues should cut back on playoff teams because it cheapens the tournament. But one could argue that it will help teams that were crowded out of the playoffs by virtue of being in a very strong division.

    It is what it is and what it’s gonna be and all the carping in the world ain’t gonna change it. I know that when the NFL says it’s gonna do something – they do it.

  5. willh888 - Feb 1, 2014 at 8:23 PM

    I guess the NFL really embraces the saying “the sky is the limit,” because Goodell wants to take this league to Jupiter. How can you take the most popular sport in the United States and make all these drastic “safety” measures, then mull the idea of expanding the season by a few games, then add more games across the ocean, THEN change the playoff format?

    The NFL had 4 wild card games the first week of the post season and three of those games didnt sell out until the last minute. Green Bay of all places had this problem. Green Bay, one of your most legendary franchises for piss sake. Adding more playoff teams is like adding 2 more quarters to a football game. We get it.. more football = more views, but the NFL should really consider quality of quantity.

  6. death from above - Feb 2, 2014 at 7:08 AM

    The best way to fix the playoff situation is to get rid of Goodel


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