What It Means
Similar to the purpose of the NBA’s expanded bubble and play-in games, the NFL has officially decided to expand their playoff field from 12 teams to 14, adding one extra wild-card spot in each conference (one in the AFC, one in the NFC). The change has been considered for years, as it was on the verge of being implemented in 2014.
With such a change in the way that the NFL playoffs are constructed, many wonder what the impact of this move will be. With that being said, let’s dive into the four biggest ways that the addition of two extra wild card spots will impact the playoff race and the playoffs themselves.
1) More teams are in the running
This one seems obvious; more playoff teams means more teams have a chance at the playoffs, right? It goes deeper than that; this move will change what record a playoff team will be expected to have.
For most of the NFL’s history, a team would have to have at least nine wins to make the playoffs, and usually more than ten to secure a non-wild card spot. Now, 8-8 teams, or perhaps even worse, could be serious playoff contenders year in and year out (though that might have happened this year anyway due to the putrid NFC East).
Teams that have long languished in mediocrity will now potentially have the opportunity for that mediocrity to play out on the stage of the NFL playoffs.
2) No. 1 seeds see the biggest benefit
With the new playoff changes, only the top seed in each conference will get a first round bye. This differs from the former structure, which gave first round byes to the top two seeds.
According to ESPN, every Super Bowl team from the past seven seasons has had a first round bye. With that in mind, the new changes have increased the value of the top seed while also decreasing the value of the second seed. It will be that much more important for teams to push for the top seed towards the end of the regular season instead of allowing themselves to fall to second place.
3) More money for the NFL
This one just makes sense. The NFL would not make any change to their schedule and playoffs if it did not boost their bottom line, which this move certainly does. According to ESPN, the change has the potential to boost league revenue by nine figures annually.
4) Coaching carousel may slow down
In the NFL, coaches often shoulder a disproportionate amount of blame when a team fails to make the playoffs. With the addition of two new playoff teams, coaches of mediocre teams (the kind that will likely benefit from the two extra playoff slots) may have a far better chance at making the playoffs, and thus retaining their jobs.
This could be a big deal this year. Think of coaches like Matt Patricia (currently on the hot seat) of the Detroit Lions, a team that just may be in position to push for a playoff spot with a win streak to close the season. Such a series of events would likely save Patricia’s job.