NFL Playoffs: Expanding Field to 14 Teams Is a Bad Idea

Mike BatistaContributor IJanuary 12, 2014

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said that adding two playoff teams "is under serious consideration."
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said that adding two playoff teams "is under serious consideration."Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps NFL commissioner Roger Goodell should wear a tool belt instead of a suit and tie, because if something's not broken, he can fix it.

According to the New York Post, Goodell said that adding a seventh playoff team in each conference "is under serious consideration."

Currently, the first- and second-seeded teams in the AFC and NFC receive a bye in the playoffs, with the other four teams in each conference playing Wild Card games.

If a seventh playoff team were added, only the top-seeded team would get a bye. There would then be two more games on Wild Card Weekend, with the No. 2 seed playing the No. 7 seed, the No. 3 seed playing the No. 6 seed and the No. 4 seed playing the No. 5 seed.

The NFL has had a 12-team postseason field since 1990. During that time, it has become the most watched sport in the United States, according to Bloomberg News. The league is earning about $6 billion a year in television rights fees, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Jan 5, 2014; Green Bay, WI, USA; The NFL Wild Card logo on the field prior to the 2013 NFC wild card playoff football game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

More playoff games would generate even more revenue for the league, and it's Goodell's job to make as much money as possible for the owners. But too much of a good thing could lead to diminishing returns.

With just 12 of 32 NFL teams making the playoffs, only quality teams get in. Adding two more teams would bring the NFL a step closer to the dynamic that exists in the NBA and NHL. In both of those leagues, 16 teams reach the postseason. It makes the regular season less interesting because the playoffs are like a whole new season in which more than half the teams in the league can press the reset button.

Sure, the NFL would be stopping short of the dreaded 16-team field. The number of playoff teams still would be a minority. But 14 is an unwieldy number. There's a certain symmetry with two teams earning byes and four teams playing in the first round. We've seen that a first-round bye in no way guarantees a Super Bowl berth, but at the same time there's just something awkward about only one team getting that bye while the other six teams in the conference are playing.

Perhaps an argument can be made that deserving teams are left out of the playoffs under the current system.

Since the NFL went to four divisions in each conference in 2002, seven 10-6 teams and one 11-5 team have missed the playoffs. Between 1990 and 2001, only one 10-6 team missed the playoffs. However, had there been an additional playoff team in each conference since 2002, six 8-8 teams would have made the playoffs, and .500 teams don't belong in the playoffs in any sport.

Records of Would-Be No. 7 Seeds Since 1990
YearAFCNFC
19909-77-9
19918-810-6
19929-79-7
19939-78-8
19949-79-7
19958-89-7
19969-79-7
19979-78-7-1
19988-88-8
19999-78-8
20009-79-7
20019-78-8
20029-79-7
200310-69-7
20049-78-8
200510-69-7
20069-78-8
200710-68-8
200811-59-7
20099-79-7
20109-710-6
20119-78-8
20128-810-6
20138-810-6
Pro Football Reference

Eleven more 9-7 teams would have punched their playoff ticket since 2002 in a 14-team field. The 2011 New York Giants are the only 9-7 team to win a Super Bowl. For that matter, only three 10-6 teams have won a Super Bowl since 1990, even though two have won it in the last three years.

That means 19 of the 23 Super Bowl winners during the 12-team playoff era have had records of 11-5 or better. Cinderella teams rarely touch the Lombardi Trophy, so there's no need to make the NFL playoffs a Big Dance.

Super Bowl Winners and Their Records Since 1990
YearTeamRecord
1990Giants13-3
1991Redskins14-2
1992Cowboys13-3
1993Cowboys12-4
199449ers13-3
1995Cowboys12-4
1996Packers13-3
1997Broncos12-4
1998Broncos14-2
1999Rams13-3
2000Ravens12-4
2001Patriots11-5
2002Buccaneers12-4
2003Patriots14-2
2004Patriots14-2
2005Steelers11-5
2006Colts12-4
2007Giants10-6
2008Steelers12-4
2009Saints13-3
2010Packers10-6
2011Giants9-7
2012Ravens10-6
Pro Football Reference

More 9-7 and 8-8 teams would water down the playoff field and mess with the chemistry that has made the NFL a cultural phenomenon over the past quarter-century.

If it ain't broke, Goodell, don't fix it.