An Expansion Idea No One Is Talking About: Expanding the NFL Playoffs
Recently, the talk of the town has been about expansions.
In the college sports world, almost every conference is rumored to be expanding.
In 2011, the NCAA tournament is expanding to 68 teams.
NFL owners have made it clear they want to extend the regular season to 18 games.
In the MLB, talks have been centered around expanding the playoffs.
Yet, the kind of expansion that I think should be done combines the last two: expanding the NFL playoffs.
The current system in place has 12 teams making the playoffs with six in each conference. I think they should move to 14 with seven per conference, with a possible move to 16 and eight per conference in the future.
The main reasons I think the expansion is warranted:
1) Every team that can win it all deserves a shot.
It may not seem like it, but it is clear that the sixth place team in each conference is a legitimate team that can win at least a game in the playoffs if not more.
As recently as 2006, the sixth seed in the AFC, the Pittsburgh Steelers, won the Super Bowl.
In January 2009, the Baltimore Ravens made the AFC Championship game and the Philadelphia Eagles made the NFC Championship game. Both were sixth seeds, the last to make it in. In order for a sixth seed to make the conference championship, they have to beat the No. 1 conference seed to do so.
How many teams should be in the NFL playoffs?
If the sixth seeds in the NFL playoffs are competitive, who is to say that the seventh seeds wouldn't be as competitive? I think there is a decent chance that a seven would beat a two once in a while.
A few years ago, the Patriots would have been the seventh seed. Do you want to bet against a Bill Belichick team in the playoffs? At the very least, you'd have to say they would have a chance.
2) No "good" teams in the NFL get left out.
I think any 10-6 team in the NFL deserves to make the playoffs. The New York Giants were only 10-6 the year they stunned the undefeated Patriots in the Super Bowl. So if they can win the Super Bowl at 10-6 (and beat the best team record wise ever in a 16-game season), why should any 10-6 team be denied the playoffs?
But in the last five seasons, three NFL teams had a 10-6 or better record and failed to make the playoffs: the 2005-06 Kansas City Chiefs, the 2007-08 Cleveland Browns and the 2008-09 New England Patriots, who were actually 11-5 but missed the playoffs.
Should the NFL expand the playoffs so one or more 8-8 teams make the playoffs? No. But if 10-6 teams are being left out, the NFL should absolutely expand.
In my memory, only one other team has gone 11-5 and missed the playoffs: the 1985-86 Denver Broncos.
3) A team with a better record should not sit at home while a team with a lesser record makes the playoffs.
In the same year the Patriots were 11-5 and made the playoffs, the San Diego Chargers were 8-8 and not only made the playoffs, but they also won a game. The Arizona Cardinals went 9-7 and went to the Super Bowl. That Cardinals team lost 47-7 to the Patriots in December that year.
Just like 2008-09, the year the Broncos missed the playoffs with an 11-5 record, the Cleveland Browns went 8-8 and did make the playoffs.
Compare this to baseball: The baseball regular season is 162 games or about 10 times as long as the NFL. So a two-game difference in the NFL is roughly a 20-game difference in baseball.
If the Red Sox won 100 games and missed the playoffs while another AL team won 80 or 81 games and made it, there would be a huge uproar. Imagine a three-game difference.
Maybe this will be the season it happens again. At this moment, there are six teams in the NFC with a 6-3 or better, but none are from the NFC West. It's easy to see the NFC West going no better than 9-7 and an 8-8 record probably could win it. Then you can easily see the Bears or Bucs missing the playoffs at 10-6. Is that fair? No.
I don't have a problem with a weak team making the playoffs, but not at the expense of a clearly better team.
The recent problems with better teams being left out came from the addition of the fourth division in each conference. Before the move to four divisions, there were three wild-card teams in each conference. Now, there is just two. So with four divisions, the divisional champs are in general weaker (you're only competing with three other teams instead of four) and now 12 other teams are competing for two berths instead of two.
4) The current playoff system has a pretty big flaw in it.
In the current system, the top two seeds in each conference get a first-round bye. Then they get to host a team that played the previous week. So the gap between the No. 2 seed versus the No. 3 seed is huge.
Often the No. 2 seed versus the No. 3 seed is fairly close (sometimes even going down to a tiebreaker). Why should the No. 2 seed get that huge an advantage? You are practically giving the No. 2 seed a free pass to the conference championship.
In the last 10 full seasons, No. 2 seeds have won more Super Bowls than any other seed, including No. 1 (No. 2's won in 2002 (Patriots), 2003 (Buccaneers), 2005 (Patriots) and 2009 (Steelers), while only the 2004 Patriots and 2010 Saints won as No. 1 seeds).
Of the four No. 2's that won, three won the conference championship on the road. The difference between one and two and between two and three should be about the same, yet I'll bet the record for two versus three is a lot better than one versus two. Should it be? I say no. They, in theory, should be the same.
So add a seventh seed to each conference. Now the two seed has to play in the opening round (and could possibly lose) and assuming two versus three play, No. 3 has a lot better chance to win versus the system now.
Of course the two does have HFA and supposedly the weaker first-round opponent so there is an advantage but not as huge of one.
Meanwhile, the No. 1 of course now has a great advantage, justifiably. If you work hard to get that No. 1 seed, you should get a leg up.
And the advantage between one versus two will not be the same as the two versus three now. While the No. 1 seed will play one fewer game (only have to win one game to make the championship), both No. 1 and No. 2 do have to play the week before.
All in all, I think a seven-team conference playoff is fairer than a six-team conference playoff which gives a huge advantage for a two versus three.
The scheduling isn't much of the problem. In the first round (don't call it "wild card"), schedule three playoff games on Saturday and three on Sunday. NBC gets the two night games, and FOX and CBS get one day game each on Saturday and Sunday.
And of course tell me you wouldn't watch the two extra playoff games. I'd rather watch two extra playoff games than two extra weeks of regular-season games.
There is precedence to expanding the playoff field. The last playoff expansion came during the 1990-91 season.
In the five previous seasons before the expansion, we had the '85-'86 Broncos and six other teams that finished with 10 wins and missed the playoffs.
Between 1990-91 and 2001-02 (12 seasons), only two NFL teams with 10 wins missed the playoffs under the three wild card system. In 1991-92 the Eagles and 49ers both were 10-6 and missed the playoffs.
But during that season, the three divisional champs were 14-2, 12-4, and 11-5, so no team worse than 10-6 made it that season either.
But since 2002-03 (eight seasons), four teams were 10-6 or better and missed the playoffs, including the Patriots in 2008-09.
So I feel it's time to expand. Unless you're in the NFC Worst (or AFC Worst), it is harder to make the playoffs now than in the '90s as you are fighting for two wild cards rather than three. The NFL office has the right idea to expand, but it's the playoffs and not the regular season that should be expanded.
Then again, obviously the NFL isn't the most in need of playoff expansion. That would be college football with its two-team system. When two teams can go undefeated and have no chance at all to play for the national championship, something is terribly wrong.
In what other league does a team that finishes undefeated have no chance to win it all?
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