NFL Playoff Expansion: If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It

Roger Goodell
Roger Goodell
East Rutherford NJ USA NFL commissioner Roger Goodell before the game between the New York Giants and the Seattle Seahawks at MetLife Stadium Robert Deutsch USA TODAY Sports

In an interview with former Associated Press White House correspondent Ben Feller, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell spilled his guts about the future landscape of the NFL postseason. According to the commish, reseeding is not being considered at the time, but an NFL playoff expansion to include two more wild-card teams is a viable option.

But would turning the NFL postseason into a 14-team tournament be in the best interest of the league?

What the NFL has right now is the most dramatic playoff system of all four major professional sports. It doesn’t need to add any more teams or change the format at all; so if it isn’t broke, why do we need to fix it?

If the postseason included 14 teams this season — three wild-card teams from each conference — the Arizona Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Steelers would have made the dance as No. 7 seeds. And in addition to the matchups we saw last weekend, New England would have hosted the Steelers and Carolina would have hosted the Cardinals.

The first issue is that Goodell indicated the league wants to reward division winners. If that’s the case, both New England and Carolina would have been at a disadvantage, as instead of a first-round bye week that No. 2 seeds have been accustomed to in the Wild-Card Era they would have been forced to compete in the opening round of the playoffs. In theory, the Pats could lose the Steelers, an 8-8 team that began the year 0-4.

Looking back at previous playoff brackets, here are some of the other No. 7 seeds that would’ve made the playoffs under the proposed format:

2012: Chicago (10-6), Pittsburgh (9-7)

2011: Chicago (8-8), Tennessee (9-7)

2010: New York Giants (10-6), San Diego (9-7)

2009: Atlanta (9-7), Houston (9-7)

2008: Tampa Bay (9-7), New England (11-5)

Not only would have the 14-team format potentially altered who won the Super Bowl, it would almost certainly have altered which head coaches would have kept their jobs.

In 2012, the Bears fired Lovie Smith after the team failed to make the playoffs a second straight year. That means Marc Trestman would not have taken over this past season and the organization may not have handed Jay Cutler a brand new deal.

After Mike Munchak inherited the Titans in 2011, the team went 9-7. Clinching a playoff berth in his first season as head coach may have been enough to save his job this season, but instead the Titans have a vacancy now.

Or what about back in 2008? It was Jon Gruden’s last season in Tampa, but a trip to the postseason may have salvaged his job. Gruden could still be patrolling the sidelines instead of naming “Gruden Grinders” every Monday night.

Of course both Goodell and owners want an expanded playoff format in hopes it results in higher television ratings and more tickets sold. And while that’s all good for profits and whatnot, what does it really add in terms of competition?

But why are we messing with a great thing?

This past weekend, we saw three second-half rallies and four games come down to the wire. We saw a No. 6 seed kick a game-winning field goal as time expired, a second-year quarterback lead a ferocious second-half surge, and two NFC powers go toe-for-toe for four quarters. But I guess that wasn’t good enough, huh?

Right now, 37.5 percent of teams (12 of a total 32) make the playoffs. Adding two more teams into the mix would makes it 43.75 percent, approaching half of the teams in each conference. If that’s the case, and the goal is to make Week 17 divisional matchups more competitive with more at stake, than the move is pointless. If the top seven teams make the playoffs, most teams would have already clinched their spot before their regular-season finales.

Instead of focusing on how the most profitable professional sport can make more money, let’s keep an eye toward assuring it remains the most competitive and compelling game to watch each weekend from September through February. Let’s not dwell on dollar signs and TV ratings, but drama and intrigue. We saw all that we could have wanted during Wild-Card Weekend, and that in itself should be enough for the NFL to let their product be.

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Sam Spiegelman
Sam Spiegelman is a native New Yorker covering sports in New Orleans. He likes Game of Thrones way too much. Tweet him @samspiegs.