The NFL and the NFLPA have recently been locked into intense negotiations about the league’s collective bargaining agreement. Both sides have voted to ratify the CBA, meaning that a labor strike will be avoided for at least the next decade and sweeping changes will be coming to the league.
The new CBA covers all sorts of topic, such as roster size, revenue shares, player salaries, preseason length, and even has the option of extending the regular season to 17 games.
One of the biggest changes that this new CBA brings about is in regard to the playoff format.
Previously, the playoffs consisted of 12 teams – six from each league. Each division winner secured a playoff berth, while the two non-division winning teams with the highest records in each league would secure a wild card slot. The two division winners with the best record in each league would secure a first-round bye, automatically advancing to the divisional round.
However, the new CBA completely alters this format. The new playoff format introduces two new teams, pushing the total number of playoff teams to 14.
Instead of there only being two wild card teams in each league, there are now three wild card teams in each league. In addition, instead of two first-round byes, only the team with the best record in each league will secure a first-round bye. Now, the second seed in each league will play the third wild card during Wild Card Weekend, rather than automatically advancing to the next round.
Obviously, this change in playoff format has many ramifications for the league and its future.
The most obvious change would be the competitiveness at the bottom of the standings. Many American sport leagues, including the NFL, have had an issue combating tanking. Many teams and their fan bases believe that if there is a long shot at securing a playoff spot that season, then the team is better off losing games in order to secure a higher draft pick and a better future.
Adding more playoff spots to the league makes it easier for a team to sneak into the playoffs, thus making a playoff push slightly more attractive than tanking would be.
Adding two new playoff berths to the league also gets more fan bases involved in the playoffs, increasing the overall excitement.
If this change was in place last season, the 8-8 Pittsburgh Steelers would have been the seventh seed in the AFC, while the 9-7 Los Angeles Rams would have been the seventh seed in the NFC. In addition, many other teams would have been in the playoff hunt much later in the year – something that could have completely altered the competitiveness of games and added much more excitement to the playoff hunt.
Another weighty ramification from the change in the playoff format is the added emphasis on securing the first seed in one’s league.
In the previous format, both of the top two teams in each league were guaranteed to advance to the divisional round. The only difference between the two seeds was home field advantage, if the two seeds were ever to meet in the playoffs.
Now, there is a stark difference between finishing first and finishing second in one’s league. The second seed must compete on Wild Card Weekend, facing the possibility that they could be upset by a wild card team and eliminated. In previous years, teams have rested their starters once they had already secured the bye in order to prevent injury, but now we may see an increased push for teams to acquire that coveted first seed.
The change to the playoff format is a massive one, but it seems to benefit a lot of people.
The league and those involved stand to benefit, as there are now two new nationally-televised Wild Card games that previously didn’t exist. These games will generate ticket and ad revenues, creating more money for the league, owners and payers. In addition, the fans stand to benefit, as there are now two more thrilling playoff games that they can watch.
It’ll be interesting to see just how much of an effect these playoff changes will have on the league.
Will a seventh-seeded team be able to make the miracle “Cinderella run” and win the Big Game? Will the extra playoff berth entice teams to go for it all and energize new fanbases for a playoff push?
The next NFL season was already looking promising, and these playoff changes only look to inject a whole new level of excitement into the league.