The noise has started up again. Way back in 2014, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell mentioned that the committee were looking at expanding the current field of NFL playoff contenders from 12 to 14. This was earmarked by many as an inevitable change for 2015, but the NFL held it off for the 50th Super Bowl year. Now that the season is done, discussion about playoffs expansion has reared its head again, with several insiders citing sources close to Goodell indicating that this could be closer than we think. The NFL is the only major competitive sporting body in the US that utilises a single elimination format for the final playoff rounds of their competition. This can make for a much shorter, and initially more exciting playoff campaign. The current system provides for the 4 division winners and owners of the next 2 best records in each conference to enter into the knockout rounds. The top 2 teams in each conference also receive a bye into the second round of playoff football . The assumed new system would make the first week of the playoffs a 3 game weekend for each conference, instead of the current two. This would also mean that the number two seed would lose their bye week, and have to slog it out with everyone else in the wild card round. This wouldn’t be the first time that playoffs expansion has happened, largely as a reaction to the increased size of the league as a whole. Back in the 1930’s, with only a handful of teams, the playoff was simply the two highest placed teams playing for the Championship. When the league had expanded by the 60’s, it was increased to four teams. The 1970 merger with the AFL led to an 8 team berth in the playoff system, for the recently renamed Super Bowl. By 1978, this was again expanded to 10 teams, and the last expansion to 12 happened back in 1990 when the league had 28 teams spread across 6 division. Since then, the league has expanded further to 32 teams, across 8 divisions, and so the league is considering playoffs expansion in response to this. Had they implemented this system during last season, then the results would have simply been a laughing stock. We all know what a mess the 2015 season was, there were people in the playoffs with some pretty dodgy win ratios, and it was wide open until past week 14. If the 14 team system had been implemented, with the extra team per conference, then the AFC would have put the Jets through after the loss to the Bills in week 17, finishing on 10/6. The Falcons would have been put into the playoffs with a 9/7 record in the NFC. If the NFL were to expand to 16 teams, and put through 1st and 2nd from each Division, it gets even worse! Who fancies putting the Bills or Colts through after breaking even on 8/8? What about if the NFC had put through the Saints, Bears, Lions, Eagles or Rams? All putting in losing records of 7/9? That’s where we could end up. There are people arguing for and against this change. Some people think that it would enable teams that have a rough schedule towards the end of the season to hang on in there, others think it would mean that you could have tire-fire teams walking into the Super Bowl on a few lucky snaps, and cheapen the meaning of the regular season. As usual the NFL will answer the call of commerce, and the decision will be based on which option the league feels will have the most positive impact on the bottom line.
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