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

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NFL Playoffs: Expanding Field to 14 Teams Is a Bad Idea
Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said that adding two playoff teams "is under serious consideration."

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.

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.

Should the NFL expand to 14 playoff teams?

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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
Year AFC NFC
1990 9-7 7-9
1991 8-8 10-6
1992 9-7 9-7
1993 9-7 8-8
1994 9-7 9-7
1995 8-8 9-7
1996 9-7 9-7
1997 9-7 8-7-1
1998 8-8 8-8
1999 9-7 8-8
2000 9-7 9-7
2001 9-7 8-8
2002 9-7 9-7
2003 10-6 9-7
2004 9-7 8-8
2005 10-6 9-7
2006 9-7 8-8
2007 10-6 8-8
2008 11-5 9-7
2009 9-7 9-7
2010 9-7 10-6
2011 9-7 8-8
2012 8-8 10-6
2013 8-8 10-6

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
Year Team Record
1990 Giants 13-3
1991 Redskins 14-2
1992 Cowboys 13-3
1993 Cowboys 12-4
1994 49ers 13-3
1995 Cowboys 12-4
1996 Packers 13-3
1997 Broncos 12-4
1998 Broncos 14-2
1999 Rams 13-3
2000 Ravens 12-4
2001 Patriots 11-5
2002 Buccaneers 12-4
2003 Patriots 14-2
2004 Patriots 14-2
2005 Steelers 11-5
2006 Colts 12-4
2007 Giants 10-6
2008 Steelers 12-4
2009 Saints 13-3
2010 Packers 10-6
2011 Giants 9-7
2012 Ravens 10-6

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.

 

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