It was reported by ESPN and other sources on Wednesday that commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL's competition committee may consider expanding the league's playoff format from the current 12 team field--which has been in-place since 1990--to a 14 or 16 team tournament starting as early as the 2013 season. As former Colts vice president Bill Polian states in the video, the Kansas City Chiefs put forth an expansion proposal seven years ago but then withdrew it later. However, Polian, a member of the league's competition committee while with Indianapolis, seemed to indicate that playoff expansion could have been a very real possibility before the idea was shelved.
If the NFL does go ahead with postseason expansion, it'll be interesting to see which format it settles on. If it's a 14 team field (seven from each conference), there's obviously the very real possibility of more teams with .500 or below .500 records making it into the postseason. The only other change would be just the one bye, and that might actually benefit the fans, as teams with great records who clinch their divisions early may have to keep fighting all the way through Week 17 in-order to clinch an all important first round bye. Could you imagine how much more exciting this season would be if the Texans, Broncos and Patriots, separated by a single game in the standings, were fighting for just one bye instead of two?
As far as logistics, I don't see how it would add a week to the NFL's calender, as was stated by Polian in the video, because instead of seeds 3-6 playing in the wild card round, it would be seeds 2-7, with six survivors (three from each conference) instead of four, and eight total participants the following week in the divisional round, just like the current playoff system.
Now, if the NFL decides to go to a 16 team field (eight teams from each conference), that's an idea that could change things more severely. For starters, it would certainly increase the frequency of 8-8 and 7-9 teams making the playoffs--the New York Jets currently sit in eighth place in the AFC with a 6-7 record.
Secondly, a 16 team playoff field would eliminate byes. A bye is a tremendous carrot to dangle in front of a team when it comes to playoff positioning. However, if you take that carrot away, that could really decrease the entertainment value of the fans. Can you imagine how cheated the fans could possibly be this season if Houston, Denver and New England, separated by a game in the standings, weren't motivated by the opportunity of a first round bye?
If a head coach knows that his team is going to have to play three games to get to the Super Bowl regardless of its seed, what incentive does he have to keep his starters in a game in late December? If I'm a head coach, and I know I have at least one of the top four seeds wrapped up--and a guaranteed home game in the first round of the playoffs--I'm resting my key guys down the stretch in order to decrease the likelihood of a crippling injury. Sure, there's the very real possibility that my team would get the fourth seed and have to go on the road in the divisional round and conference championship game, but with parity being what it is in the NFL of today, there's also the possibility that the top three seeds could get bumped off as early as the first round and my team would then host three playoff games on the way to the Super Bowl.
In my opinion, under a "no bye" format, the biggest incentive for all playoff teams--even the lower seeds--would be to stay as healthy as possible down the stretch, and this could turn even more Week 16 and 17 contests into glorified exhibitions--under a 16 team format, the Steelers (7-6) would possibly have a playoff spot wrapped up by this Sunday.