Extra Playoff Teams Gives Clubs Like Cardinals Hope

Howard Balzer

As Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim has worked free agency and now prepares for the NFL Draft in an effort to further upgrade the team’s roster, the path to a potential playoff spot became shorter Tuesday when NFL owners approved an increase in playoff teams starting this season with one more wildcard qualifier in each conference. The vote was conducted remotely. Tuesday would have been the second day of the annual meeting that was canceled because of the COVID-19 crisis.

The increase in playoff teams from 12 to 14 will eliminate one of the first-round byes enjoyed by two teams. The franchise with the best record in each conference will receive a bye and the remaining teams will compete on Saturday, Jan. 9 and Sunday, Jan. 10 with three games each day beginning at 11 a.m., 2:40 p.m. and 6:15 p.m. Arizona time.

Regardless of record, the two through four seeds will be division winners followed by the five through seven seeds.

In a teleconference with reporters Tuesday, Cardinals chairman and owner Michael Bidwill was pleased not only for his team, but for the league. 

“I was glad we were able to vote on that,” he said. I think that will be great for the fans and great for the teams, especially those teams that are in divisions that are a little tougher. So, I think it's a really positive development.”

In 2019, the NFC West had three teams with winning records led by the division winner San Francisco 49'ers at 13-3, Seattle Seahawks at 11-5 and the Los Angeles Rams at 9-7. The 49ers and Seahawks were in the postseason.

Bidwill likes what his team has done in the first two weeks of the league year as it seeks to reach the level of those teams ahead in the division.

“I feel very good," he said. "There's obviously a lot more work to be done; the draft will be an important part of our addition of player talent. And then it always seems like after the draft there are always some late signings as we get closer to camp.

“So, there are still a few more steps as we get closer, but I like on paper how it's come together, not just the players with how they perform on the field, but also the things that we've heard about them with what kind of teammates they are, what kind of leaders they are in a locker room and their commitment to the game. I'm really proud of the work that has been done under some difficult circumstances by our personnel folks.”

As for television, CBS will broadcast one additional wildcard game on Jan. 10 at 2:40 p.m. MT. The game will also be available via a livestream on CBS All Access. Additionally, as part of the CBS coverage, a separately produced telecast of the game will air on Nickelodeon, tailored for a younger audience.

NBC, with its new streaming service Peacock, as well as Telemundo, will all broadcast an additional wildcard game on Jan. 10 with kickoff at approximately 6:15 p.m. MT.

The NFL last expanded the playoffs for the 1990 season, increasing from 10 to 12 the number of teams to qualify for the postseason. Since 1990, at least four new teams have qualified for the playoffs that missed the postseason the year before – a streak of 30 consecutive seasons.