NFL commissioner Roger S. Goodell with Hurricane Sandy first responders prior to the game between the New York Giants and the Pittsburgh Steelers at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports
Nate Davis, USA TODAY Sports
Do we want to see .500 teams (or worse) regularly granted entrance into the NFL playoffs?
Commissioner Roger Goodell revealed Wednesday that the league's competition committee will explore expanding the postseason field, and that could mean a heaping helping of mediocrity on wild-card weekend.
"We'll look at probably 14 or 16 teams," he said.
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Assuming that means adhering to the familiar conference structure, the New York Jets (6-7) would currently qualify for the Super Bowl tournament if the field was increased from 12 to 16 participants.
If the idea was applied to the 2011 season, three additional 8-8 teams would have made the cut (the 8-8 Denver Broncos won the AFC West last year).
Conversely, in other years, adding playoff berths would ensure stronger teams get a shot at the Lombardi Trophy in seasons where the chips fall oddly. Minus Tom Brady in 2008, the New England Patriots went 11-5 but were left to make January tee times. Rewind to 2010 when the Seattle Seahawks became the first division winner with a losing record (7-9); they moved on in January while the New York Giants and Tampa Bay Buccaneers stayed home with 10-6 marks, though this tends to be an exception to the rule.
The NFL shifted to the eight-division format in 2002 when the Houston Texans joined the league. Here are breakdowns of how the playoffs would have been affected over the past 10 seasons:
Additional teams that would have qualified under a 14-team field
- one 11-win team
- four 10-win teams
- eleven 9-win teams
- four 8-win teams
Additional teams that would have qualified under a 16-team field
- one 10-win team
- seven 9-win teams
- ten 8-win teams
- two 7-win teams
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At the end of the day, it seems like needless tinkering which is likely motivated by the desire to create additional revenue.
Based purely from a competitive vantage point, it seems unnecessary. The present system ensures that at least the three best teams from each conference get an opportunity to advance while rewarding the top clubs with first-round byes. Having 37.5% of the league qualify also feels like an appropriately exclusive figure; among the four major sports, only Major League Baseball has a tougher regular-season gauntlet (33% of its teams reach postseason) than the NFL even after baseball expanded its wild-card format last season. The NBA and NHL format permits 16 of 30 teams to advance beyond the regular season.
Provided the NFL doesn't expand beyond 32 teams - and disregarding the almighty dollar as impetus for change - this proposal seems best filed in the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" folder.