Changing the NFL Playoff Format Is a Terrible Idea

Liam McKeone
NFL Playoffs might be changing
NFL Playoffs might be changing / Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
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Last night, Adam Schefter dropped a bombshell report that the NFL playoff field might be expanding under the new CBA. If an agreement is struck, the changes would be instituted this season.

As with the proposal for a 17-game season, the main motivation behind such a change is more games, which means more money for everyone involved. Unlike the 17-game season, which would probably give us an extra meaningless game in most circumstances, this gives fans an extra pair of playoff football games-- and there are few things better in sports than playoff football.

But I keep going back to this time-tested adage: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." The current playoff format gives us four weekends of high-quality (for the most part) football. More is better, sure, but the cost that it will come with is too high.

The new format would give one more team from each conference a chance in the playoffs that they wouldn't have had in previous years, resulting in 44 percent of the NFL franchises making the playoffs. In 2019, the last two teams in would have been the Rams and the Steelers. The Steelers had an impressive season given the injuries they sustained and the Rams had a stretch where they looked dangerous, but would their additions into the field really have improved last year's playoffs? I'm actually certain it would have only lowered it.

The biggest issue at hand here, though, is that only one team per conference would receive a bye. That bye is huge when it comes to Super Bowl hopes. The last team to even make the Super Bowl, much less win one, without a first-round bye was the Ravens in 2012. The last seven Super Bowl matchups have been between a one and a two-seed in some combination. Taking away the second bye would give the first overall seed an enormous advantage-- and while they earned it as the top seed, giving them the only bye AND home-field advantage seems disproportionate when looking at the current format.

That doesn't even factor in the complications that come with the top overall seed. In 2017, the Eagles were the top seed in the NFC, while the Vikings were the two-seed. Both finished 13-3. But they didn't play head-to-head during the regular season, so the seeding was determined by tiebreakers. Under this new format, the Eagles would get the coveted bye, while the Vikings are stuck playing on Wild Card Weekend due to things like strength of schedule and divisional record. The competitive advantage given by the bye is far too big of a deal to be determined by if the Vikings beat the Lions in Week 2.

Saints fans were already up in arms about getting the three seed as a 13-3 team in this year's playoffs; they didn't play the Packers (who ended up as the two-seed), and as a result had to host the Vikings in the first round because of such tiebreakers. That's a very rare occurrence that has only happened one other time this decade, also to the Saints. The proposed playoff format invites that kind of controversy every single year. More football is more football, but the fallout from such a decision could change the playoffs as we know it-- and not in a good way.

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