Last year, the AFC wildcard picture was clogged with 8-8 teams vying for a playoff berth. The San Diego Chargers, eventually finished at 9-7, claiming the final playoff spot in the AFC. In the NFC, the Cardinals, who finished 10-6, were left out of the playoffs while the Packers, who finished 8-7-1, won their division and a playoff spot.
On Tuesday, the NFL owners will be meeting to discuss a number of issues, one of which is the possibility of expanding the playoffs, likely to a 14 team format. Fans and analysts may be split about whether or not the change is needed or even wanted, but the fact is that playoff expansion is coming sooner or later. That being the case, how will the yearly playoff picture be changed by the format adjustment?
Looking at the past five seasons, here’s how the wildcard race breaks down in terms of record between the last teams in and the first teams out.
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It doesn’t take long to realize that the NFC has been more competitive over the past five seasons. Three times in those five years, a 10-6 team was left out of the NFC. That didn’t happen once in the AFC in that same time span. Only once, in 2010, two 10-6 teams missed the postseason.
On the other hand, 10-6 teams are often the last teams in. In four of the past five years, a 10-6 team was the last squad in the playoffs from the NFC, and that was the case twice in the less competitive AFC. So where does that leave us?
The 10-6 mark has been the point that bubble teams shoot for in the past, and expanding the playoffs reinforces that point, especially in the NFC. If the playoff field is expanded to 14 teams, 10-6 teams will almost never miss the postseason. As it stands, they rarely miss the playoffs anyway. In addition, an expanded field creates a better opportunity for teams that barely make it to a winning record of 9-7.
From a fan’s perspective, the additional teams add excitement to the playoffs as well as adding more meaning to be the regular season conference champion. The addition of a seventh seed creates more opportunity for Cinderella teams. As any sports fan can tell you, Cinderella teams add excitement to any postseason tournament. Sure, it won’t turn the NFL playoffs into a January version of March Madness, but it does bring more excitement into play.
Most importantly, at least to the NFL’s millions of fans, is the point that expanded playoffs add more wildcard round games. Added games may provide more revenue to the NFL, but it also gives fans more football. That seems like a win-win situation to me. For those worrying about a diluted playoff format, don’t. Losing teams still won’t make their way into the playoffs (very often), so there’s really nothing to worry about. Bring on the 14 team playoff format.