Playoff expansion talks will start in earnest this offseason, but commissioner Roger Goodell isn’t waiting to throw his two cents into the discussion.
"We think we can make the league more competitive, we think we can make the matchups more competitive towards the end of the season," Goodell said at the Super Bowl XLVIII news conference via NFL.com. "There'll be more excitement, more memorable moments for our fans. And that's something that attracts us, and we think we can do it properly from a competitive standpoint."
One of the suggested formats would add one playoff team to each conference, bringing the total up to 14 teams. In that format, only the top-seeded team would have a first round bye week. Each conference would feature three wildcard matchups, followed by two divisional round games and the conference championship. Such an expansion wouldn’t be a huge departure from the current system which features two wildcard games, two divisional games and the conference title game.
The system would definitely add a little excitement, but is it really needed? The beauty of the current system is how difficult it actually is to earn a place in the postseason. For each additional team that is allowed into the tournament, the quality required to get in is diminished.
Let’s not forget the NFL’s primary goal as a business is to make as much money as possible. Adding teams into the playoffs adds gold to the coffers. But what happens when we see increased revenue from the additional playoff games? Will the NFL expand the playoffs even more, justifying it by saying it’ll make the tournament more competitive?
Don’t misunderstand me on that point. I’m neither in favor of nor against a proposal that would add just one playoff team to each conference. That being said, I’m strongly against letting half of the league into a tournament to determine a champion. The whole purpose of a single elimination tournament is to let the best of the best sort it all out. When we’re including a pile of 8-8 teams into the postseason, as would have been the case this year in the AFC, there’s a fundamental problem with the system.
Regardless of one blogger’s feelings on the subject, it does appear that playoff expansion is beginning to gain steam heading into the offseason. That doesn’t mean it’s coming in the immediate future, but don’t be surprised if the NFL moves relatively quickly once they decide to expand the format.
Also keep in mind Goodell’s job if the NFL does announce such a change. Goodell’s paycheck comes from the owners, but his job is to sell the NFL’s policies to the fans. When such a change happens, he’ll talk a lot about competition and a better product late in the season. The fact is, the NFL will make the move if the dollar signs appear to favor such a change, and that’s not a problem. As a consumer, I’m only concerned about the product. With an additional team added to each side of the bracket, the playoffs wouldn’t be altered beyond recognition, and the added slot might give teams like the Lions, Browns and Jaguars a fighting chance in the future.