Discussing potential rule changes: Playoff expansion

Peter King wrote that the NFL seems likely to expand the number of teams in the Play-offs from 12 to 14 teams, starting in the 2015 season. This article discusses the potential implications of this proposal.

The NFL is set to debate three rule changes which could have considerable impact on many aspects of the league. These are to amend or eliminate the extra point kick, to expand the number of teams in the play-offs and to centralise the use of replays to determine the correct officiating calls.  A discussion on eliminating or altering the PAT can be found here .This article shall discuss the possible expansion of the play-offs.

Peter King wrote on Monday night that play-off expansion is more or less a certainty, it's just the matter of when it is introduced. King added that he believes it will be introduced in time for the 2015 season.

What this will mean in practice is that 14 teams, instead of 12, will make the post season, an additional 1 from each conference. The most appropriate thing to do would be to make it so only that only the top seed in each conference received a first round bye, resulting in 6 wild-card matches instead of the current 4. King has suggested this would be the case if an expansion were to happen.

So what would effects would this potential play-off expansion have for the league?

First things first, and undoubtedly the principle driving force behind this move, lots and lots and lots of extra pocket change for both the Franchise owners and the NFL. Creating these two additional games should create a huge windfall for the everyone associated. Teams get to sell tickets, merchandise and all other things associated with a football game, and the NFL gets to sell the rights to show the game, or gets additional money from whoever already has rights to show the games or whatever, either way its a boat load of cash.

When you consider that this will be two additional play-off games, which logically create more profit, then the league and its owners must be rubbing their hands together.

However, this proposal for play-off expansion is of course not without its critics.

Some are afraid that this proposal will allow inferior talent into the play-offs and dilute the quality/integrity of the whole thing, which is a perfectly valid criticism. There's absolutely no fail safe against a terrible team sneaking in at 7-9, or worse 6-10, and getting crushed in the wild card rounds. Not only would this be embarrassing,  it would provide an unfair advantage to the 2nd seeded team because they're not playing "play-off calibre" football

Whilst there is absolutely nothing to guarantee the above wouldn't happen, it seems more than unlikely.

For instance,in 2013,  were the 10-6 Cardinals any less deserving that the 11-5 New Orleans Saints last season? Does anyone believe the Steelers couldn't have gave at least the Bengals, Cheifs Colts and Chargers a good run for their money in last seasons play-offs?

In 2012, the 10-6 Bears would have made fine competitors I'm sure, and the 8-8 Steelers (sigh) would have put up at least a fair fight.

In actual fact, going back as far as 2005, this proposed rule chang would have allowed no team with a losing record into the play-offs. The official count would be an addition of five 8-8 teams and 13 teams with a winning record (the Cleveland Browns in 2007 were 10-6 by the way and still didn't make the play-offs!).

So going by record alone, which of course doesn't always tell the full story, there isn't very much to worry about with bad teams despoiling the level of quality in the play-offs. If anything I think this proposal will do nothing but improve the competition.

This is supposed to be the ultimate "any given Sunday" league, the notion that the team who finishes no.7 in the conference can't compete, or put on a good show for the audience, is laughable. The Cardinals were one of only three teams to beat the eventual Super Bowl champions last season, do you really think they were scared of playing any team? Were the 10-6 Bears in 2012, or the 10-6 Buccaneers in 2010?

Worrying about 7th seeded teams ability to compete is just unnecessary, hell ask the 2011 Steelers how they felt about the 8-8 Broncos after they played at Mile High. And I know, the Broncos wouldn't have been the 7th seed since they were division winners but the point is still valid, they were an 8-8 team that competed and won.

The other criticism of the proposed rule change, and one that Peter king himself notes, is that it will diminish the value of the regular season. I can't say I agree with that.

When King speaks about "the value" of the regular season, I presume he means that it will no longer be as important, or that teams will no longer try as hard for regular season success.

Fact- the point of the regular season is to qualify for the play-offs. That does not change with an additional play-off spot.

Fact- Teams compete for the best record to gain a first round bye or to attain the highest possible seeding, thus facing a lesser seeded and supposedly poorer quality team. That does not change with an additional play-off spot.

No team should be content with "just" a play-off spot, they should always be looking to finish as strong as possible. The only point at which a franchise should "coast" in the regular season is when they're play-off seeding is locked in, for example the Kansas City Chiefs in week 17 last year. An additional play-off seeding would not , as far as I can see, make this any less or more likely. If a franchise decides that it is happy with a 7th place finish in the conference, and essentially shuts the starters down when this is all but assured, then that problem lies with the thought process of that franchise and the play-off format itself, not an expansion.

The only real impact I envision this proposed rule change having is at the very top of the conferences, as the upper echelon teams battle it out for sole 1st round bye. That seems to me both a fairer and considerably more exciting prospect. It stops the best teams from shutting it down early ( a la Colts and Peyton Manning) and places a very large and strategic value on the 1st overall seed. Being one of only two teams in the play-offs that has had a weeks rest would provide a huge advantage.

So to sum up, an additional wild card team in the play-offs is good for the owners, because they get more money. It is good for the fans, because they get to see an additional play-off game, whilst also increasing the chances their team plays football past week 17. It has the potential to allow lesser quality teams to compete and lower the quality of play-off football, although over the past 9 years this would not have appeared to be the case. And Some fear it would diminish the value of the regular season, however the only thing it would change in practice is that the two best teams must continue to fight for the no.1 seed and first round bye.

Play-off expansion, at least to me, seems a pretty solid idea. But perhaps that is because the Steelers finished 7th seed the last two years in a row...probably not though.

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