How the NFL Playoff Format Should Change

Aug 28, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; General view of Super Bowl LI countdown monument outside of NRG Stadium. NRG Stadium will play host to Super Bowl LI on Feb. 5, 2017. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 28, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; General view of Super Bowl LI countdown monument outside of NRG Stadium. NRG Stadium will play host to Super Bowl LI on Feb. 5, 2017. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

The NFL Playoff format has been one key reason why it has been so successful.

Bye Weeks ensure that the best teams qualify for at least the divisional round. Those teams also gain an advantage in that round. By having less than half of the teams make the playoffs, the quality of play is much better in sports like the NHL and NBA where more than half of the teams qualify.

Furthermore, having each round be one game adds extra pressure and excitement to each game.

However, the format has some pitfalls. By having only one game per matchup, the league profits less than it could. Furthermore, having just 12 teams make the playoffs causes for there to be less total games, also reducing the league’s profit.

Also, the best teams aren’t always the ones which qualify, since the 2008 Patriots didn’t make the playoffs with an 11-5 record, but the 7-9 Seahawks of 2010 did make the playoffs despite having a losing record.

These shortfalls prompted recent proposals regarding changing the playoff format. The idea which has reportedly picked up the most steam adds an extra playoff team in each conference, and removes one bye.

This would mean that 14 teams would make the playoffs, and the best team in each conference would be able to rest their players. This proposal features a six game first round. The current format only has four games in the first round.

However, one thing which makes the current NFL playoff format good is the current system of byes. The two teams with the best record in each conference get to play two teams which have already proved themselves.

This allows every round to have a pretty close matchups. The worst playoff teams play teams similar in skill to them, and the best teams advance.

It is tough to have complete faith in playoff success, though. A playoff matchup in the NFL is determined by a single game, which is hardly enough of a sample size to show which team is better.

And although the league likes the revenue which comes with making each round a series, series ruin the excitement and would never be accepted by the NFLPA. The NFL has no choice but to stick with the one game per round system.

The NFL should make some changes to the playoff format, but the 14 team system seems somewhat unnecessary.

First, the NFL should allow the top seed in each conference be able to pick which team they play in the divisional round. Often, the 5 seed is better than the 4 seed in a conference. The 5 seed often cannot get a good seed due to an even better team in its division.

Then, the 5 seed, which could be the second best team in the conference, is paired up with the 1 seed, while the 2 seed gets to play the 3 seed, which could be worse. If the 1 seed can choose better teams advance more often.

It would also act as an added advantage for the 1 seed over the 2 seed, further motivating teams during the season.

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Next, the NFL should seed teams based on record, not division. The NFL should require both bye teams in each conference to be division winners. Seeds 3 through 6 should be determined completely by record, not whether or not a team was a division winner. Wild Card teams currently suffer from countless disadvantages.

There are other changes the NFL could consider, but would probably not ever adopt, and for good reason. For example, the NFL could set all of the matchups beforehand, as in March Madness, and make a “bracket”.

However, this would undermine better teams in favor of underdogs, which is a the opposite of what the league wants.

In the end, the goal of the NFL is to make money by keeping the product as marketable as possible. In order to do that, the NFL needs to keep the Super Bowl as interesting as possible. The format, therefore, must allow the best team from each conference to win the Conference Championship.

The NFL absolutely does not want to see another Super Bowl in which one team (Broncos) demolishes the other (Panthers). The league, therefore, must make some minor changes to the format of the playoffs.