More playoff football. Preliminary talks on a new collective bargaining agreement have included a proposal to add two teams to the NFL playoffs. There are pros and cons to the move, both from the owners and the players. But progress is being made and signs are it is going to happen as soon as next year.
The biggest stumbling block toward moving from a 12-team playoff to a 14-team format is, unsurprisingly, money. There clearly is more revenue with added playoff games and more interest in the wildcard scrum at the end of the regular season. Three wildcard teams would make it instead of the two that qualify under the current system.
The potential change is also tied in with eliminating one or more preseason games.
And, oh yeah, there’s that player safety thing — also a key issue.
Proposed 14-Team Playoff Schedule
The first major change in a 14-team playoff structure is the elimination of one of the two first round byes in each conference. Plus the addition of one more wildcard team in each conference means the playoffs will look like this.
Week One of Playoffs (formerly the wildcard round):
BYE: (#1 seed) Best record in the NFC conference
GAME 1: (#2 seed) Second best record by a NFC division winner plays worst record wild card (#7 seed)
GAME 2: (#3 seed) Third best record by a NFC division winner plays wild card (#6 seed)
GAME 3: (#4 seed) Fourth best record by a NFC division winner plays wild card (#5 seed)
AFC plays the same format of games
Week Two (divisional round):
GAME 4: (#1 seed) plays (lowest remaining seed 4, 5, 6 or 7)
GAME 5: the other two teams play
The AFC does the same
Week Three (conference finals)
GAME 6: week two winners play in each conference
The AFC conference plays the same schedule (games 7-12)
Two weeks later
GAME 13: Super Bowl LV
The current 12-team playoff schedule has 11 games. The new 14-team plan adds up to 13 games. One game is added in each conference on the first weekend of play. And one first round bye in each conference is eliminated for team with the second best record.
Additional Wants, Needs and Demands by Players and Owners
This proposal does not add any regular season games, that’s another issue for the next CBA. There is added revenue spread among all the teams from two additional playoff games. The players would like to eliminate one pre-season game in this negotiation. Owners recognize the balance between losing a meaningless pre-season game while gaining revenue from two added playoff games. Also another slot opens up to slip an almost good team into the playoffs where anything can happen.
The bigger issue here is the seeding process. No one argues if a bye or byes given out, the best records should get them. But the geography of the division system can make for some very uncomfortable playoff selections. In 2010 the Seattle Seahawks won the weak NFC West with a losing 7-9 record. As a division winner, they went to the playoffs. The New York Giants and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers did not make the playoffs despite 10-6 records. There have been proposals to ignore the division winners and seed all the teams in the playoffs be regular season record.
There are several proposals to lessen the strength of the divisional winners in seeding the playoffs. The most obvious one is to eliminate the division winner advantage in the second round and schedule rounds two and three according to regular season record only. Home field advantage to the best records.
There is also a potential problem when the two best teams are in the same division. Say the Kansas City Chiefs go 14-2 this season and right behind them the Los Angeles Chargers are 13-3. Kansas City gets a bye under the old or the new system and the Chargers get seeded #5, the highest wildcard. The two best teams in the entire league could easily play in the second round, not even the conference finals, much less the Super Bowl..
The bigger issues in the negotiations over the Collective Bargaining Agreement are adding regular season games (owners), shortening the pre-season schedule (players) and money (everyone). Since the 14-game playoff proposal does add games and revenue, expect it to get tied up with the issues of fewer pre-season and more regular season games.
The revenue from two added playoff games is substantial. The increased interest in late season games with another playoffs slot open is also a big revenue draw. Somewhere in the mix of money and playing time will come a solution which, at this time, hints all parties are on board to expand the playoffs to 14 teams.
Tim Lavalli holds a Ph.D. in psychology and has focused his work on the mental aspects of competitive games. He co-authored Check-Raising the Devil, the autobiography of poker pro Mike Matusow. You can follow him on Twitter @timlavalli.