The 5 o’clock club is published Wednesday to Saturday during the season, and aims to provide a forum for reader-driven discussion at a time of day when there isn’t much NFL news being published. Feel free to introduce topics that interest you in the comments below.
This is the time of year, with wildcard races in full throttle and more than half the teams in the NFL still in serious playoff contention, when we get talk of playoff expansion.
There are basically two reasons for playoff expansion:
- Expand the playoffs to add playoff games, which are money-spinners for the NFL.
- Expand the playoffs to keep more teams in the race late in the season. The benefits are numerous: more fan engagement, more meaningful games, less ‘tanking’, better tv ratings for late season games, and more.
I have an idea that would address both of these goals.
Most playoff expansion proposals simply suggest adding one or two more wildcard teams using the same criteria used now to select the wildcard teams from each conference.
I have a somewhat different idea.
I suggest that the NFL add one or two more playoff slots per conference, expanding from the current 6 teams per conference to 7 or 8 — creating a playoff field of either 14 or 16 teams in total from the NFL. There’s nothing new in that.
Those extra slots would be designated for ‘hot streak’ teams (or some better name that the NFL marketing department would easily come up with).
The teams that fill the seventh (and possibly eighth) playoff seeds in each conference would be the teams in the conference with the best record in the final eight games of the season — in other words, the teams that finish the season the strongest. That is quite different from simply adding wildcard teams on overall record.
Which teams would get in?
I admit that I haven’t gone back to research which specific teams would have gotten into the playoffs under this criterion in recent years, but I’m thinking of teams like these:
The former San Diego Chargers - For a few seasons, the Chargers got off to notoriously slow starts, losing 3 to 5 games to start the season, then coming on strong in the second half of the season to finish just outside the wildcard qualification. If they’d had the chance to quality for the ‘hot streak’ seeding, their fans would have had a lot to cheer about late in the season, and the playoffs might have been more interesting with Phillip Rivers in the mix.
The 2017 49ers - A team that looked dead in the water last season made a shocking mid-season trade designed to bolster the team long-term by acquiring Jimmy Garoppolo from the Patriots. The team then went on a winning streak to close out the season. Niners fans were excited, but that promise came to naught when Jimmy G was injured early in the ‘18 season and out for the year, meaning San Fran fans are waiting another year for their investment in GM, coach and quarterback to pay off. What if there had been a ‘hot streak’ seeding last year? The Niners fans would have had even more to cheer for down the stretch as they imagined the possibilities for their team in the NFC playoffs.
The 2018 Giants - The Giants got off to a horrible start, but rallied around the midpoint of the season. With this week’s loss to the Eagles, they are basically gone. Imagine if the ‘hot streak’ seeding were available. The Giants fans could find themselves calculating odds for a 7th or 8th seed in the NFC playoffs instead of reviewing college quarterback profiles for the upcoming draft.
The 2018 Browns - Teams that draft rookie quarterbacks almost have to write off the rookie season most of the time, though there are notable exceptions. Imagine if every team with a rookie signal caller could aim for having the guy ready for a playoff push that started in Week 9? Baker Mayfield is playing exciting football right now. His team just knocked over the Steelers. Imagine how engaged Cleveland fans would be right now if their team could qualify for a seeding in the AFC playoffs!
How would the playoffs be changed?
Adding ONE ‘hot streak’ seed per conference
The league could designate only one ‘hot streak’ seeding (#7) per conference (so, 14 playoff teams in the NFL), and limit the bye week to only the top-seeded team.
The first round seeding for a 7-team per conference playoff would look like this:
- #1 seed - BYE
- #2 vs #7 (hot streak seed)
- #3 vs #6 (wild card seed)
- #4 vs #5 (wild card seed)
The number of playoff games would increase by one (more revenue)
the #2 seed would lose the benefit of the first-round bye. That might not be popular.
Adding TWO ‘hot streak’ seeds per conference
The playoffs would have an extra round of elimination added in which the two wildcard teams play the two ‘hot streak’ teams, while all 4 division winners enjoy a bye week.
From that point, the playoffs would continue as they do now.
Round 2 would pit the round one winners against the 3rd & 4th seeds, followed by the usual elimination.
The key downside to this proposal is that the top two seeds in each conference would get a 2-week bye instead of one week. Some teams don’t want 2 weeks off at playoff time.
It could also change the timing of the Super Bowl, or decrease the current 2-weeks off between the conference championship and the final game to just one week.
The decisions teams make at the trading deadline could be dramatically altered by the new ‘calculus’ of assessing your team’s chances of having the best record in your conference in the 2nd half of the season.
Games that look like dogs on the schedule right now — say Week 16 Giants-Colts, or Week 17 Ravens-Browns — could suddenly be high-intensity games to decide playoff seedings.
A team like the Chargers, competing for a wildcard seeding, could find itself in a late-season dogfight with a team like the Broncos who are eliminated from the wildcard race but could ride a late-season win streak into a ‘hot streak’ seeding. Better teams like the Bears might not be able to rely on — say — an easy Week 16 or Week 17 matchup against a dispirited Lions or Packers team if one of them could cobble together a few wins in the second half of the schedule.
What do you think of my suggestion to add ‘hot sterak’ seeding to the current playoff format?
This poll is closed