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NFL To Expand Playoffs, But When?

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Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images.
Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images.

Commissioner Roger Goodell will preside over the owners’ meeting in a few weeks. One of the key issues to be discussed will be an expanded postseason.

Reports are that, either this season or the one following, two teams will be added to the playoffs, one each in the NFC and AFC. In the new structure, there will be only one bye in each conference, not two.

I don’t think it’s a complete coincidence that ESPN will be hosting its first wildcard game in January of the coming year. As Adam Schefter noted, making a skillful segue from reporter to PR guy, it will be the first NFL playoff game ever on cable TV.

Well, there it is in a nutshell. Cable TV’s a relatively untapped source of revenue, and master driller Goodell is all over it. I mean, you have to hand it to him: He’s the sharpest card by far of all the commissioners of major sports. He doesn’t miss a trick.

ESPN has gotten its gigantic paws all over college football. It might do the same with the NFL.

I think it’s a great idea to add one more team. A lot of folks will recall that the Arizona Cardinals had a great season, finishing 10-6 and beating the Seahawks in Seattle. But, in a division with the future world champs and the 49ers, it wasn’t good enough. 

I also like the idea of having only one team getting a bye in the first round. That could make for more interesting season-ending games. Second place in a conference shouldn’t mean a first-round bye.

But what bothers me is that a team in a weak division is seeded ahead of a better team in a strong division. In effect, that rewards mediocrity twice.

The Packers should not have played the 49ers at home after an 8-7-1 season. That game should’ve been held in San Francisco.

So the Packers were lucky enough to win a division with no truly good team and one wretched one, the Vikings. Green Bay triumphed over adversity, I guess, but every team had quarterback issues and injuries except the Lions, the league’s most pathetic losers. Meanwhile, the 49ers played four games against superb teams in Seattle and Arizona.

It sounds as if the NFL is, in a change, taking a page from the Major League Baseball notebook. I’m not a big fan of Commissioner Bud Selig, but I love the playoff scheme in baseball. Those win-or-die wild-card games have been exciting. The more wild-card games, the more intense the competition. And that means that it’s tougher to get a bye. So much the better.

But will the NFL ever discuss where this is going to end up? Because the NHL and NBA have included so many teams that the regular season means little. Granted, they play many more games, but it’s gone too far.

One reason the NFL has become the top sport in America is that its playoff competition does not include undeserving teams. Every game’s meaningful, in the regular season and on to the playoffs. But what if half the teams made the playoffs?

Well, that argument hasn’t carried any weight when it runs against the counterargument: $$$$$$$$$$. The trend is clear. More and more teams will make the playoffs, and cable giants will get a piece of the action.  Still, where will it end?

Look for the owners to expand the playoffs in the 2014-15 season. If it does happen, you can bet coaches and players don’t have to be told what it means: If you’re one of the top teams, you need to fight even harder to get a bye. And if you’re a middling team, never say never.