The NFL playoffs could be undergoing a major change for the 2020 season if the league approves a COVID-19 contingency plan that has been proposed by competition committee. As we wrote about earlier this week, the proposal would expand the playoffs from 14 teams to 16 teams, which means that eight teams in each conference would make the postseason if the plan is approved. If that happens, it would mean that basically everyone except for the Jets would have faint hopes of making the playoffs this year.
One interesting thing about the proposal is that it comes with two wrinkles that could potentially change the landscape of the postseason.
The first wrinkle is that teams would be seeded by winning percentage, which means division winners wouldn't be guaranteed to host a playoff game, according to NFL.com. If the proposal passes, it would solve the NFL's biggest postseason issue right now, which is the fact that the NFC East winner is going to get to host a playoff game.
At the rate things are going, there's a good chance that a 6-9-1 Eagles team could be hosting an 11-5 wild-card team in the opening round. However, that would no longer be possible under the 16-team playoff proposal.
Although every division winner would be guaranteed a playoff spot, they wouldn't be guaranteed a first-round home game. To give you an example of how drastically the new seeding formula would change things, let's look at the NFC playoff picture real quick.
If the season ended today, here's what the current 14-team playoff format would look like vs. the 16-team format where division winners aren't guaranteed home games.
|Current NFC playoff picture with seven teams||NFC playoff picture with eight teams|
1. Seahawks (6-1)
2. Buccaneers (6-2)
3. Packers (5-2)
4. Eagles (3-4-1)
5. Saints (5-2)
6. Cardinals (5-2)
7. Rams (5-3)
First team out: Bears (5-3)
If the regular season ended today and the NFL went forward with the 16-team proposal, the biggest winner would be the Saints, who would go from a fifth-seeded team playing on the road at Philadelphia to a fourth-seeded team that gets to host a home game.
On the other hand, the biggest loser would be the Eagles, who would go from hosting a playoff game under the 14-team format to a road playoff game against the Seahawks under the 16-team format.
If the NFL does move forward with this format where division winners aren't guaranteed a home game, the league should just go ahead and implement it for good. There's no reason why a team that wins a bad division should automatically get a home game. It just doesn't make sense to reward a team because they happen to play in a division with three other bad teams.
The NFL has stuck with the current format because it wants to reward division winners, and you can still do that. The reward is making the playoffs.
As for the other wrinkle in the 16-game proposal, it would eliminate the postseason bye week. Under the 12-team playoff format that was in place from 1990 to 2019, there were four teams each year that received a first-round bye (two NFC teams and two AFC teams).
Under the 14-team format that's currently in place for this year, only two teams are scheduled to get a bye (one NFC team and one AFC team). However, under the 16-team format, there would be ZERO teams getting a bye as the first seed would be forced to play the eighth seed in the wild-card round, according to ESPN.com.
The biggest losers if this change happens would currently be the Steelers and the Seahawks. Instead of getting a bye if the season ended today, the Steelers would have to play the Raiders in the wild-card round and the Seahawks would host the Eagles.
Of course, there's no guarantee the league is going to expand the playoffs to 16 teams. Basically, it sounds like the NFL would only go this route if there are any games lost due to the pandemic. If that happens, there could be a situation where not every team plays the same amount of games. If a 9-6 team gets in over a 9-7 team, the 9-7 team probably isn't going to be thrilled that they were punished for playing one more game than the 9-6 team. In an effort to cut down on situations like that, the NFL would expand the playoffs to 16 teams, adding an eighth playoff team to each conference.