Playoff Expansion Comes A Little Too Late For Two Titans Teams

David Boclair

NFL owners are expected to vote on – and to approve – Tuesday an expansion of the playoffs to 14 teams.

The move will add one team in each conference to the postseason and reduce the number of clubs that earn byes into the division round from four to two. Only the teams with the best regular season record in each conference will get a break.

For some teams, the additional spot in the postseason field will be too little, too late.

Since the league expanded to 32 franchises and realigned into eight four-team divisions in 2002, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Minnesota Vikings finished seventh in the conference standings four times apiece. The Steelers have been the first team out in the AFC each of the last two years (2012 and 2013 as well). Minnesota landed in that spot three times in five years (2003, 2005 and 2007) as well as 2018.

Under the soon-to-be playoff format, they would have played beyond the regular season in those years.

Seven others, including the Tennessee Titans, finished seventh multiple times.

The last time the Titans finished seventh was 2016. In that case, they were eliminated with a Week 16 loss at Jacksonville but got to 9-7 (the first of four straight 9-7 seasons) and into seventh place with a Week 17 victory in a meaningless contest at Houston.

In 2011, it would have taken a win and an exact combination of results involving at least three other teams for Tennessee to be part of the six-team playoff field. It got the needed victory (23-22 at Houston) but not all of the other outcomes and finished seventh by virtue of a tiebreaker with Cincinnati.

The expanded field would not have helped in 2018, when Tennessee lost a win-and-in Week 17 contest with Indianapolis. That resulted in an eighth-place finish (behind Pittsburgh).

In all, 23 of the league’s 32 teams (12 in the AFC, 11 in NFC) have finished seventh – and just missed out on the postseason – since 2002. A different NFC team ended up in that spot each of the past eight years capped by the L.A. Rams last season.

In addition to Pittsburgh and Tennessee, Houston and Denver (twice each) finished seventh in the AFC multiple times. Atlanta, Chicago, New Orleans and Tampa Bay (twice each) joined the Vikings with multiple near misses among NFC clubs.

Buffalo, Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Oakland (now Las Vegas) in the AFC and Dallas, Detroit, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington in the NFC were the only teams that never finished seventh under the soon-to-be former playoff format.

The vote will take place via conference call rather than in person. NFL owners were scheduled to hold their annual meeting this week, but due to restrictions necessitated by the continued spread of COVID-19 they will work remotely through an amended agenda. Among the items to be discussed are criteria for when clubs will be able to reopen their offices and training facilities, according to SI’s Albert Breer.

Additionally, Breer reports, the league has negotiated deals with NBC and CBS to broadcast to two additional games on the opening weekend of the postseason. Those deals, likewise, will be approved Tuesday. 

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