NFL Playoff System: Reasons For/Against Change

The National Football League (NFL) is always on the front burner of American pop culture in late-January through early-February as the Super Bowl festivities take place. Over recent years, the NFL has pushed back the actual final game to two weeks following the Conference Championship round of the playoffs. During this time, hype ensues from the media and fans as they await the final game. Also during this downtime, the NFL Owners meet and discuss possible ways to improve the game. One of these ways being discussed in recent years is the NFL Playoff System.

In 1990, the NFL expanded the amount of eligible playoff teams to 12 at a time when the league had 28 franchises. That meant that six out of the 14 teams in one conference would make the playoffs. In the 16 years since then, the league has expanded to add four more franchises (along with relocations). Still, 12 teams out of 32 make the playoffs, six from each conference.

People in favor of adding two more teams to the playoff mix argue the fact that the top four teams not playing during the first week of the playoffs hurts the momentum of the playoffs. One specific owner who thinks so is Kansas City Chiefs owner, Lamar Hunt. People want to see the best teams in the playoffs, not wait an extra week. Another argument here is against the home field advantage factor during the Championship round. People in this camp believe (like the Super Bowl), the Championship round games should be played at a neutral location. People point to the inability of dome teams to perform well in inclement weather.

Naysayers, such as current New York Giants co-owner John Mara, believe the current foundation is just right point to the fact that the playoff system would be diminished. If an extra team per conference is added, the chance of an 8-8 (record) team getting into the playoffs is great. The home field advantage is as important to the game as any of the rules, too. The importance of the advantage adds an increased edge to the NFL’s regular season, which will place a greater emphasis on every single game.

Even with the current playoff system, parody is as popular as ever in the NFL. This season marks the 12th consecutive that at least one of the number one seeds hasn’t reached the Super Bowl. In fact, this year’s Pittsburgh Steelers will be the first six seed ever to reach the big game. The fact that they defeated the first, second and third seeds on the road make it even more of an extraordinary accomplishment.

Through all these arguments, the fact of the matter is that the NFL and the Owners in general, will look at which proposition creates the most profit. As Owners, they look at the NFL, football as a business. Making money is the name of the game for them and winning (for some) may not be as important.

Take into account the fact of the ever-changing landscape of the league. Widespread rumors that Los Angeles will regain a franchise (possibility of the Saints or Chargers moving) will always create a realignment problem.

Either way, the NFL Playoffs remain one of the best tournament systems in existence. The action is intense and must-see TV. They’ll look to remain ahead of the curve, as any business will.

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