Late on Wednesday night, ESPN’s Adam Schefter posted a bombshell of a tweet regarding proposed changes to the NFL playoff format. According to the NFL insider, the league wants to add a seventh playoff spot in each conference and only hand out one bye week per conference. Additionally, the league wants to add a 17th week of regular season action and remove one week of the preseason.
More details: Under the current CBA proposal that NFL owners are pushing for, the playoff field would be expanded to seven teams, while the regular season would be increased to 17 games per team, and the preseason shortened to three games per team, per sources.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) February 19, 2020
This is obviously a lot to digest, and none of it is approved as of now. However, these changes could be here sooner rather than later, so let’s break down the good and bad for the upcoming schedule changes.
Analyzing NFL Proposed Playoff Changes
The good (on the surface, anyway) is that football fans are going to be able to watch more games. Adding an extra week of regular season action ensures that every team gets to watch one more week of their favorite team, regardless of whether or not they’re in playoff contention. Additionally, the added playoff spot means that more teams will be in the playoff hunt, which means more fans are going to be invested throughout the entire season. While only having one bye week per team is questionable (more on that later), the race for the top seed should only add to the late-season drama.
The only unanimously good thing about this proposal is losing one week of preseason action. The preseason is a necessary evil, but you don’t need four weeks of the boring lull. Most NFL teams only play their starters in two of the four contests, with the rest being boring battles for depth. A third preseason game is still necessary to sort out the bottom of the roster, but the fourth game brings nothing of value to the table.
The biggest problem with this proposal is that the human body can only take so much punishment. The NFL already has a major injury problem, and adding a 17th game of action isn’t going to make that any better. There is no indication that the NFL will add another regular season bye week, which means that the players are going to be putting an absurd amount of stress on their body. Don’t be surprised when injuries start piling up and impacting both the quality of play and the quality of players’ lives.
Even with the current playoff formatting, it’s too easy for a bad team to sneak into the playoffs. Adding an extra Wild Card spot is just inviting terrible, boring matchups. If these rules were installed this year, America would have had to sit through Patrick Mahomes destroying Mason Rudolph and friends on national television for three hours.
If the newly proposed playoff system were in place the last 10 years we would have added:
• five 10-win teams
• nine 9-win teams
• six 8-win teams
The team helped the most (by far) would have been the Steelers who would have made 4 more playoff trips & 10/10 the last 10 yrs. pic.twitter.com/VYWn7xBpID
— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) February 20, 2020
From a competitive standpoint, there is no justification to only giving out one bye week. Having a bye week is one of the biggest competitive advantages in sports, and the value will only go up with the added week of regular season action. Handing out only bye week basically punches a Super Bowl ticket for the top seed of each conference. Ironically enough, adding an additional playoff team per conference could make the postseason considerably less competitive.
Defense for my "once the playoffs start, there's 4 teams that matter" stance:
Here's the clearest way I could come up with to visualize how important a first-round bye is.
— new-age analytical (@benbbaldwin) November 26, 2019
Overall Assessment of Proposed NFL Playoff Changes
Ultimately, these proposed changes are bad for the game of football. While everyone would like to lose the final week of the preseason, the rest of the positives just aren’t enough to outweigh the negatives. Adding an extra week of regular season football is going to lead to more injuries, which is ultimately bad for both the players and the on-field product. Additionally, the added playoff spot is going to allow too many bad teams to make the postseason, and only giving one team a playoff bye makes the postseason push too predictable and unexciting.
The NFL should stick with their current 16-game schedule and 12-team playoff format. Ratings have never been higher, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. If the NFL really felt a need to change up the postseason picture, they could keep the current format but change up the seeding to reflect record. There’s no reason than a 9-7 Eagles team should ever host an 11-5 Seahawks team in a single-elimination postseason contest.
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