Weighing The Pros And Cons Of An Expanded NFL Postseason

The NFL has been chomping at the bit to tinker with various things as of late, from television schedules, to minor rule tweaking, to moving the draft, to changing up the Pro Bowl. And now we’ve reached the point where they’d like to change the playoff landscape once again by adding an additional wildcard seed per conference.

While the discussion was tabled for now (reportedly, some owners feared ‘oversaturating the market’ by changing the playoffs as they seek to roll out their new Thursday Night Football schedule for the 2014 season), it seems only a matter of time that it comes to pass.

To be truthful, I don’t know entirely what to make of the new proposal. I do not object to changing the format in principle. After all, it’s been altered a number of times over the years as the league has evolved and expanded.

The proposed change would add two new games to the playoff schedule, one in each conference. Rather than each conference advancing two teams to the second round with an automatic bye week by virtue of securing the top two seeds, the second seed would be asked to play the lowest seed in the wildcard round.

This obviously significantly disincentivizes the value of acquiring the second seed. Instead of getting a week off and a free pass to the division round, the second seed now must earn the right to advance without the benefit of the time off. Granted, they will be asked to contend with a seventh seed, but it’s an added game nonetheless.

Thus, if there is a clear frontrunner for the top seed in a conference, then by the end of the season, those competing for the second seed will be less motivated to strive for that position, which could impact the quality of games.

On the other hand, the change would also make the top seed significantly more valuable, since they would be the sole team in each conference with the luxury of a week off, not to mention one less game to play en route to a championship.

Therefore, it could translate into even more combative games down the stretch of the regular season if the first seed is still in contention.

Adding seventh seeds to each conference, though, could also dilute the talent pool that enters the postseason. Previously, the NFL has only seen one team with a losing record reach the postseason during a full schedule, that being the Seattle Seahawks a few years back.

One issue that I’ve had with the MLB and NBA is that the early rounds of the playoffs are often less contested due to the number of teams advancing. Each league advances 16 teams—more than half of the entire pool. Teams with losing records regularly reach the postseason, and rarely find much success.

But there are always thrilling underdog stories. The Pittsburgh Steelers won the Super Bowl following the 2005 season by making a late-season run, entering the playoffs as a sixth-seed, and proceeding to beat the top three seeds in the AFC before defeating the top seed in the NFC en route to acquiring the franchise’s record-tying fifth championship.

The Green Bay Packers and New York Giants have also recently gone all the way out of the lowest seed. Adding another seed could grant access to a late-surging team that could do damage in the postseason. The Steelers could have been such a team last season, after finishing on a 6-2 run and (incredibly) missing the playoffs by just a hair.

But decisions aren’t made based on one outcome. All factors above should be considered when weighing the value of expanding the playoffs. Granted, the prime mover of this discussion for the league will be financial revenue, and not the integrity of the sport, but that doesn’t inherently make it a bad idea.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi
Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • srdan

    Stuff like this messes with records. And I don’t like that. Other sports have gone through it with the three point line and the two line pass and such and they have transitioned. But i hate when the announcers have to say “the old school 3 point play” or when tehy flash stats on the screen and caveat with “that was before the 3 point line”

  • joed32

    They have changed the number of teams before and the last time was more than 20 years ago. I really don’t care but the reason is to increase revenue and it will add some importance to games late in the season with more teams in contention.

  • joed32

    Going from a 12 game season to a 14 game season to a 16 game season messed with records as well.

  • srdan

    You are right. I consider the start of the superbowl the inception of the league. I think they were already playing 16 games then but in guessing. I live near Philly and don’t let that fan base talk about “championships”. Lol. Strictly superbowls

  • Ken

    In my opinion you would ONLY consider this if the lowest seeds are having any success and as pointed out by Matthew they are. Big time success in many cases. So therefore adding one more team at least is logical from a competition stand point.

  • Pitfan0513

    Don’t like it, don’t want it, don’t need it! This isn’t hockey were teams need the added revenue, the NFL is thriving just the way it is!

  • joed32

    LOL. I’m an old man and I remember when it was 8 teams in the East and 8 teams in the West and the two winners played for the championship. That was the extent of the playoffs and my Steelers never made it. The 1st Superbowl was in 1967 and they went to 16 games in 1978.

    I live here in CA and the night before the 1st Super Bowl I was in a bar and they had chartered a bus to go to the game. $10 included a ticket to the Super Bowl, the bus ride, and free food and beer on the bus. My wife wanted me to take her somewhere so I declined.

  • Eric MacLaurin

    Last year was a great example as the Steelers were the hottest 2nd half team and missed the playoffs just because Kansas city has no moral fiber.

  • srdan

    Hahaha awesome story! At the time I’m sure it was something that was hard to get people to go to. Now people mortgage their homes to see the game. It’s a testament to the league ability to grow. For that reason it’s hard to question their decision making. If they decide to grow the post season, I would be inclined to give then the benefit of the doubt even though I disagree with it.

  • chris ward

    Like it the way it is with the 4 divisional winners and two wildcards, not a favor of change, like the format the way it is.

  • steelster

    Love this idea and hope the league does it. I also hope the league adds 2 more teams. L.A. and Portland would be nice.

  • Dan

    I think if the top wildcard has a better record than the lowest seeded div winner, then that game should be played at the home of the wildcard. The way it is now, it doesn’t matter if you are the 3rd or 4th seed, or if you are the 5th or 6th seed. Every seed position should have meaning. This is why I don’t like the 7 team playoff format….takes the incentive away from getting that 2nd seed in order to earn the bye.