The NFL announced that it is putting off discussions on possible playoff expansion until the fall, but I have a hard time comprehending the “con” in the debate.
Barring scheduling logistics — which makes or breaks the idea because if a game can’t be scheduled, it can’t be played — I’m not finding convincing argument against expansion.
I’m of the school of thought that the more games the better. Of course, I don’t take into account player safety. I’m looking at this through the lens of a football fanatic. If the NFL wanted to remove two preseason games and schedule them as regular season instead, I’d be all for that. But for the sake of argument, I’m willing to concede that debate and say that the players can keep their 16 weeks of rigorous punishment, rather than 18.
But when it comes to playoff expansion, it makes all the sense in the world. The NFL was talking about adding just two more teams to the playoffs, to bring the total to 14 playoff participants. But I say, why stop there? Just bump it up to 16 and eliminate the bye weeks for each conference’s top two seeds.
Why do they need a bye week? To rest and recuperate? It seems to me that the lower seeds do just fine without the first-round bye.
Yes, last year’s Super Bowl took place between the league’s two No. 1 seeded teams, Seattle and Denver. But the No. 4-seeded Ravens won the Super Bowl the year before, the No. 4-seeded Giants the year before that, the No. 6-seeded Packers the year before that, and the trend continued well into last decade. An argument can — and has been — made that the bye week actually hinders a team’s momentum.
By adding two more playoff teams to each conference, you have four first-round matchups in each conference, just like the NBA and NHL. It’s not as if this is a player safety issue because you’re not adding an additional game for everybody — just the top two teams who have a hard-earned, but unnecessary bye week.
Some say that adding two teams to the playoffs “waters down” the competition. My argument for that is that the NFL is already parity-driven. The league is so balanced to begin with — which is a good thing — that it gives more teams an opportunity to go get the trophy.
All too often, teams get off to a slow start and then never get the chance to recover. Does that make them a bad team? No. In fact, what if a team gets hot at the end of the season and becomes the hottest, best team in the NFL by season’s end, but they missed out on the playoffs? The NFL fans would miss out on the chance to see a great team in action in the playoffs. And how about those few situations where a 10-6 team misses the playoffs? It’s not a common scenario, but it has happened when it really should not.
Another excuse for limiting the playoff field is scheduling conflicts. This, as I previously mentioned, is a legitimate hurdle the league has to clear. But if they expanded the playoff field to 14 teams, they wouldn’t have any problems adding a third game to both Saturday and Sunday of wild card weekend. After all, they get three games in on Thanksgiving without any problems.
But expanding to 16 teams would mean they’d need to add four more games to the weekend, and I don’t think they can play four games in a single day. This, of course, would mean adding games on other days of the week, like a Friday night game and a Monday night. Again, being a fan of the game, I would have no problem watching the NFL playoffs from Friday through Monday. It would make for a truly “wild” Wild Card weekend. And I don’t buy that the ratings would suffer greatly from playing games on those two weeknights.
I do think that when all is said and done, the NFL will expand their playoffs. I don’t know that it will be to 16 games — at least not initially — but there is too compelling a case for expansion for the owners not to go through with it.