When/if the NFL starts up its new season, the postseason will look a bit different.
For the first time in 30 years, the league has added more teams to the playoff fold for reasons that obviously have nothing to do with making more money. Instead of the standard 12 teams that we’ve grown accustomed to seeing, there will be 14 teams vying for the Lombardi Trophy.
The biggest change by far is that the #2 seed no longer gets a first-round bye; top seeds now have full exclusivity on that highly coveted reward.
In theory, this playoff expansion affects every team but we are a Seattle Seahawks site and this team is in the playoffs frequently. We also have enough data to see the good and bad of the 14-team era.
- Being the only team with a first-round bye kicks extra ass. After a three-year spell of the Green Bay Packers (#6 seed), New York Giants (#4 seed), and Baltimore Ravens (#4 seed) all hoisting the Super Bowl, we have gone seven straight seasons in which both Super Bowl participants had a first-round bye. The Seahawks’ three Super Bowl appearances all occurred when they had the #1 seed, and one could argue the rest was just as important as the comfort of not having to travel anywhere.
- Home field advantage throughout the playoffs is now possible for all division winners. The top seed still plays the lowest remaining seed in the divisional round, so with wild card weekend now set up for #2 vs. #7, #3 vs. #6, and #4 vs. #5, the #1 seed can only play seeds 4-7 as their first game. However, suppose there are some upsets and the #2 and #3 seeds both lose... suddenly the #4 seed is hosting a divisional round game, and if the #1 seed inexplicably loses to the #7 seed, then the #4 seed can also host the conference championship game. These are unlikely scenarios but not impossible, so if Seattle as much as wins the division then they set themselves up for the chance of never having to leave CenturyLink Field until the Super Bowl. As a reminder, the Seahawks have only lost one home playoff game at CLink and that was way back in the very cursed 2004 season.
- Greater room for error to actually make the playoffs. Only 12 teams have had at least 10 wins and been shutout of postseason play under the 12-team format. At 9-7 it’s closer to 50-50, but if we retroactively expanded those seasons to 14-team formats, 9-7 would’ve been good enough to qualify as a #7 seed in every year. It would take way too long for me to do the math on this, but expect a rise in 9-7 and 8-8 squads getting into the postseason from this moment onward.
- Less room for error if you want a first-round bye. The Seahawks gave us a pleasant surprise by starting 3-1 in 2019, and that put them in position to potentially get the #1 seed before a December collapse sent them down to #5. They were in a similar position in 2016 when everything fell apart in December and they lost control of the #2 seed. But history shows that an overwhelming majority of teams who secured a first-round bye under the old format were at least 3-1 at the quarter-mark of the season. Only seven teams had ever achieved the #1 seed after starting 2-2, and one of them was the 2005 Seahawks. The benchmark is 12-4 and even that might not be enough.
- Still having to play three games as the #2 seed. This ties into the previous bullet about the value of a first-round bye. If you’re not the #1 seed, you have to win three games in the playoffs to make the Super Bowl. Not once has the 12-team format led to a Super Bowl in which neither team had a bye. The only solace is that as the #2 seed you’re guaranteed at least two home games and could get a third if the #1 seed loses in the divisionals. Over the next several years we will find out if the new format creates an even greater advantage for teams with that extra week off.
- That looming 17-game regular season. A 16-game regular season + 12 teams in the playoffs = Total of 19-20 total games played if you reach the Super Bowl. When the 17-game season begins, that shifts up to 20-21. Again, that #1 seed is so pivotal.
I know playoff expansion is something many fans have been against over concerns that it dilutes the product, but perhaps we’ll become massive supporters if the Seahawks get in as a #7 seed or get HFA as a #4 seed thanks to some upset results.
14-team playoff format, yay or nay?
This poll is closed