NFL reportedly considering expanded playoffs, shortened preseason
The NFL playoffs may have a couple of extra teams starting in 2014, if rumored scheduling changes get the go-ahead.
ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported Sunday that the league is "urgently discussing" the possibility of shortening the preseason from four games to three, with that adjustment coming hand-in-hand with an expansion of the playoff field from 12 to 14 teams.
"That would offset teams' lost revenue from the elimination of a preseason game, and it also could lead to additional television revenues for the league," Mortensen wrote on ESPN.com.
Commissioner Roger Goodell strongly hinted at the possibility of a more populated postseason in an NFL.com interview last week.
"A reasonable argument could be made that there are teams that should qualify for the playoffs and don't and could win the Super Bowl," Goodell told Judy Battista. "I don't think we want to expand just to have more teams. We want to create more excitement, more interest and give teams a chance to win the Super Bowl."
A 14-team playoff -- seven teams per conference -- likely would limit first-round byes to just the top qualifying team. With that setup, six teams from both the AFC and NFC would compete in the current "wild-card round," giving the NFL an extra game that weekend. The divisional round would maintain its current format.
Another option could be to adopt MLB's play-in wild-card format and have the two lowest-seeded teams from each conference meet, with the winners rounding out a 12-team bracket that mirrors the current setup.
Regardless of how the NFL might envision an updated postseason, it seems clear that there are changes of some sort on the horizon.
The league's lengthy preseason has come under increased scrutiny in recent years, as it runs in contrast to the NFL's push for player safety. The competition committee, according to Mortensen, suggested that a three-game preseason is the minimum teams need to prepare for the regular season. Currently, each team plays two road and two home preseason games -- the possible loss of a preseason game, even in alternating years, may be of concern to some owners.
Under a 14-game playoff system, the 8-8 Steelers and 10-6 Bears would have qualified last season in the AFC and NFC, respectively. New England and San Francisco, which both received byes in 2012, both would have had to play in the opening round under that three-game wild-card round plan mentioned above.
It almost goes without saying that any additional playoff games would be cash cows for the league. The wild-card round averaged more than 30 million viewers per game last season; the first-round contests landed as the top four rated network broadcasts for the week of Dec. 31, 2012-Jan. 6, 2013, per TV by the Numbers. In other words, there's money to be made from expanding the postseason, even at the expense of the preseason. And the NFL has rarely turned away from possible revenue sources.