What Would an Expanded NFL Playoffs Look Like?

Could the expansion of the NFL playoffs be on the horizon? If recent rumors are true, that could soon be the case. Interest in a new system was reported to be of interest to both sides by NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero and Ian Rapoport. However, there may be some questions about how it would be feasible. In an already taxing league, would expanding the playoff field hurt the product and the players? 

The proposal, however, appears to answer many of these questions. 

How are the NFL playoffs different now? 

Tom Brady and the Patriots seem to dominate the NFL playoffs every year, but what might happen in an expanded postseason?
Tom Brady and the Patriots seem to dominate the NFL playoffs every year, but what might happen in an expanded postseason? | Al Bello/Getty Images

The current system, like the proposed replacement, consists of four rounds. The first round has two games for each conference played between the third and sixth seeds and the fourth and fifth seeds. The third and fourth seeds are the divisional leaders with the lowest winning percentage, and the fifth and sixth seeds are the best of the non-leaders. The top two seeds have a first-round bye. 

The new NFL playoffs, according to CBS Sports could work quite similarly, but it would switch things up to allow more competitions during the first round. Their system only gives the top seed in each conference the first-round bye. The second-place team would then take on the seventh seed, a team who would miss the playoffs in the current system. 

The proposal adds a game without doing too much to the system. According to the NFL Network report, the players and owners are both in favor of the deal. 

Aren’t there concerns?

Expanding on the playoffs would come with some fair questions about the motivation and the reasoning behind doing such a thing. One lingering question anytime the NFL talks about expanding the number of games is player safety. Players have consistently pushed back at the idea of a longer season, and even though the proposed revamp to the NFL playoffs system would only affect four teams, it works to appease them.

According to CBS, their proposal would work because it could also mean that every team in the NFL could drop one preseason games. With many players going into the regular season banged up from the preseason, the prospect of fewer games may be ideal for the players. The current system, after all, amounts to a quarter of the regular season. 

The CBS proposal appeases not only the concerns over the number of games, but it is also favorable to every team, as it shortens the preseason and allows that extra slot for the playoffs. 

What needs to happen?

The change would likely be packaged with a new CBA. With the current CBA expiring in 2021, the new system could easily be part of a ploy by players to get rid of the fourth preseason game, and it adds a marquee game that could prove attractive to the owners. Last time there was a potential lockout, the owners wanted to expand to 18 games and players almost held out into the regular season as a result. 

With player safety at the forefront, the idea of additional games is going to be negative for many players, as the current method already does a number on their bodies. Taking away a game, adding a potential playoff-berth, and giving the rest of the league a lighter load could be something that appeases every side of the potential argument.

What next?

The CBA negotiations could spread over the next two years and beyond, or they could be resolved before a major issue is on the NFL hands. Whether the NFL takes a proposal like this or something similar, the length of the season and issues like playoff expansion are likely to be a major part of whatever deal happens.