As of this writing, the NFLPA is mulling over the proposed new CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) that has been negotiated and agreed upon by NFL owners.
There are many things in this proposed new CBA which aims to prevent a work-stoppage after the 2020 season, but for the purposes of this article, let’s talk about the sexy stuff: An expanded regular season and postseason.
If the owners get their way, the expanded regular season will include a 17th game, while the postseason will add one more team per conference.
If I had to rank these expansion proposals (and I’m not sure if it’s legal for a sports site to rank less than five things), I would place the idea of expanding the postseason as a clear number one in my book.
I just love this idea. For one, it keeps more teams in the mix through the end of the regular season, which obviously keeps more fan bases emotionally invested until the bitter end.
It might seem unfortunate that this proposed postseason expansion would eliminate a bye for the number two seeds—a logistical certainty given the math—and it likely is. But the NFL once rotated where its conference championship games were played regardless of win-loss records. Also, there was a time when byes were perhaps a little too easy to obtain. Starting in 1978, when the NFL expanded from eight playoff teams to 10, through 1989, all division winners—even the mediocre ones—earned a week off after the regular season, while the fourth seed battled the fifth seed on Wildcard Weekend. That all changed in 1990, when the NFL expanded its playoff field to 12 teams, which logistically punted the division winner with the third best record in each conference into the wildcard round. That postseason system—save for some slight tweaking which added a fourth division to each conference in 2002 thanks to realignment—has been in place for three decades.
Now we might have this new system that eliminates byes for number two seeds.
Basically, byes have been under siege since the end of the 1980’s, and it’s probably only a matter of time before we see a 16-team playoff field and no byes (Wikipedia the 1982 postseason “Super Bowl Tournament” that was the result of the nine-game strike-shortened regular season, and you’ll see the likely blueprint for the not-so-distant postseason future of the NFL).
Again, is it fair to a number two seed—one that likely wins 12 or more games—to have to play an extra week just to reach the Super Bowl? I don’t know, is it fair that wildcard teams with double-digit wins often have to go on the road to play division winners with significantly less victories? These things tend to even out over time, and guess what? If the number two seed wins its game, its reward is a second-straight home game in the divisional round. How many teams that play on Wildcard Weekend have been able to say that? None up until now and this new proposal. And what happens if five, six and seven all win their wildcard games? That’s right, a fifth seed (a non-division winner) vs. a sixth seed (a non-division winner) in the divisional round. Try explaining that to your friends who know absolutely nothing about football.
You might say that adding more participants will dilute the playoff field, but only if you don’t think the two or three teams that fight for the sixth seed every year are playoff caliber. How often does the race for the final wildcard spot come down to a tiebreaker? Often enough that it keeps a decent team out.
The proposal I’m really not crazy about is the 17-game regular season. And it’s not because I don’t want more actual football. It’s because it just seems pointless. From what I understand, the 17th game will be of the inter-conference variety—perhaps an annual “rival” for each team (for instance, the Steelers vs. those dirty Philly birds—the Eagles). Cool, but match-ups like that offer little in the way of value as far as postseason tiebreakers are concerned. Besides, where will this 17th game be played, and who decides which teams miss out on one week of gate and concession revenue each season?
To me, that’s a half-ass way of expanding your regular season schedule, but this is what happens when players are hellbent on not playing extra regular season games and owners are hellbent on getting their way, one way or another.
I wonder if an 18-game regular season would have kept the postseason field the same.
I guess we may never know.
Finally, doing it this way probably isn’t ideal for the owners--a 17th regular season game and two more playoff teams as opposed to an 18-game regular season--but at least an expanded postseason field adds some additional value to their TV contracts by providing the networks with two more highly-rated television programs to air the first weekend after the holidays.
The owners are going to get an expanded schedule one way or another. It’s up to the players to agree on this proposal or a future one that includes more actual games.
Either way, expansion is the future of the NFL—it always has been.