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NFL playoff expansion: What kind of impact would it have had?

Playoff expansion would get Robert Griffin III and the Redskins into the dance this season. (Mike Buscher/Cal Sport Media) Playoff expansion would get Robert Griffin III and the Redskins into the dance this season. (Mike Buscher/Cal Sport Media)

The NFL reportedly will consider expanding the playoffs beyond its current 12-team format to a 14- or 16-team model -- the latter of which would include half the teams in the league.

Though commissioner Roger Goodell might argue such a move would increase the NFL's competitive balance, the true explanation is simpler: more playoff games equal more money.

A 14-team playoff would include seven teams from each conference, likely with only the top seed receiving a bye; in a 16-team format, it's very possible that all eight AFC and NFC teams to reach the postseason would play on the postseason's first weekend. The only other viable solutions with 14 or 16 teams in the playoffs would involve a "double-bye" system, like the one used previously in the Big East conference basketball tournament -- i.e. with 14 teams, the top three teams would sit out for two weeks, as the bottom four played to reach the conference semifinals.

Those details are a discussion for another day (one that a lot of football minds hope never comes). But, for now, how would the recent NFL playoffs have looked with 14 teams in the mix?

Let's take a trip down memory lane and see what may have changed from 2007-2011 (and how the current playoff picture would change) with an extra team on each side of the bracket ...

(The hypothetical seventh seeds in the AFC and NFC are bolded below)

2012

AFC

Bye: Houston Texans

Round 1: Bengals at Patriots, Steelers at Broncos, Colts at Ravens

NFC

Bye: Atlanta Falcons

Round 1: Redskins at 49ers, Bears at Packers, Seahawks at Giants

The race for the No. 1 seed in the AFC is intense enough right now without throwing out the second first-round bye. Here's what else adding 13th and 14th playoff teams would do in 2012 -- bring every single NFC team back into the race heading into Week 15. Is that a positive or negative development? Do a bunch of 4-9 clubs even deserve a morsel of hope that they can get to the postseason?

That said, you can't ignore the intrigue that the third wild-card round game would add in each conference. Right now, A.J. Green and the Bengals would have a crack at the Patriots, while RGIII's Redskins would be in line for a showdown with San Francisco.

2011

AFC

Bye: New England Patriots

Round 1: Titans at Ravens, Bengals at Texans, Steelers at Broncos

NFC

Bye: Green Bay Packers

Round 1: Bears at 49ers, Lions at Saints, Falcons at Giants

One of the hardest factors to weigh when looking back is the impact of a bye vs. an extra game. In other words, would the 49ers have had enough to hold off the Saints in the divisional round if they'd been coming off a physical contest with the Bears? Would the Ravens have had enough juice to shut out Houston in the second half after a wild-card round game against Tennessee?

The Bears were a .500 team at 8-8, so it's hard to argue their case too much. Tennessee, on the other hand, won its last two to reach 9-7 -- one game better than the AFC West-winning Broncos.

2010

AFC

Bye: New England Patriots

Round 1: Chargers at Steelers, Jets at Colts, Ravens at Chiefs

NFC

Bye: Atlanta Falcons

Round 1: Giants at Bears, Packers at Eagles, Saints at Seahawks

No offense to the 2011 Bears or Titans, but the extra playoff teams in a 2010 retrospective seem more like potential contenders. In the AFC you add to the field the 9-7 San Diego Chargers, who won seven of their past nine; the NFC picks up the 10-6 Giants, who sat out the postseason because they lost a tiebreaker to the Packers.

And it's when you add in a potential upset from the No. 7 seed that the reworked playoffs take on a different tenor. Here, for example, had the Giants knocked off the Bears, New York then would have headed to Atlanta, while Green Bay would have visited Seattle -- in reality, en route to the Super Bowl, the Packers upset the Falcons, while the Seahawks lost in Chicago.

Green Bay's eventual Super Bowl foe, Pittsburgh, had a bye. Would replacing that week off with a game against the Chargers have changed the AFC's direction?

2009

AFC

Bye: Indianapolis Colts

Round 1: Texans at Chargers, Ravens at Patriots, Jets at Bengals

NFC

Bye: New Orleans Saints

Round 1: Falcons at Vikings, Eagles at Cowboys, Cardinals at Packers

The top two seeds, the Colts and Saints, made it through to the Super Bowl this season, so a rewritten history probably would not look that different -- unless you feel that the seventh-seeded Texans or Falcons would have done more damage than the teams that made the playoffs that year.

The most notable change here is that the 9-7 Houston Texans are in the field, period, two years before that franchise made its actual postseason debut. Playoff experience was the red flag for Houston in the 2011 playoffs and may be again in 2012. Even one extra playoff game might have changed that narrative.

2008

AFC

Bye: Tennessee Titans

Round 1: Patriots at Steelers, Ravens at Dolphins, Colts at Chargers

NFC

Bye: New York Giants

Round 1: Buccaneers at Panthers, Eagles at Vikings, Falcons at Cardinals

Sure, the 14-team setup would have added a Tampa Bay-Carolina game in the wild-card round. But the clear matchup of intrigue is New England at Pittsburgh, replacing what was a Steelers bye. This was the Matt Cassel-led, Tom Brady-less Patriots, mind you (a team that had lost by 23 at home to the Steelers earlier in the season) so Pittsburgh may have rolled to the Super Bowl title anyway.

Their opponent in the title game that year: Arizona, which knocked off Atlanta, Carolina and Philadelphia to reach the Super Bowl. A Bucs' win over Carolina, however would have set up Tampa Bay-New York and Philadelphia-Arizona matchups in the divisional round -- Philadelphia, you might remember, wiped the Giants from Arizona's path, letting the Cardinals host the NFC championship game. They may have had to visit the Big Apple under this format.

2007

AFC

Bye: New England Patriots

Round 1: Browns at Colts, Titans at Chargers, Jaguars at Steelers

NFC

Bye: Dallas Cowboys

Round 1: Vikings at Packers, Redskins at Seahawks, Giants at Buccaneers

Good news, Browns fans: Your playoff drought is over, with a berth circa 2007. Cleveland finished 10-6 that year, lost the AFC North due to an 0-2 record against the Steelers, and slipped out of the playoffs because Tennessee held an edge in games against common opponents.

The Colts, the No. 2 seed, lost their first playoff game this season -- 28-24 to the Chargers. So maybe, just maybe, the Browns could have altered this bracket by beating Indianapolis and taking on New England in the divisional round. With the six-team format, the Patriots instead took down Jacksonville.

The Vikings finished 8-8 and would have squeaked in above Philadelphia and Arizona because of conference win percentage. They were 0-2 against the Packers this season, though, and lost by 34 at Lambeau. Aside from adding another game for Green Bay, then, it's hard to imagine Minnesota making too much noise.
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