This first weekend of the NFL playoffs was interesting to say the least. Brian Hoyer looked colorblind. Aaron Rodgers returned to superhuman form. Blair Walsh missed a chip shot. The Bengals and Steelers got physical with each other. It was equal parts surprising and exciting. For the most part, it delivered on all of the hype.
There were definitely things that could have improved the weekend. A better showing from Houston. Shorter games maybe. The one thing that definitely was not missing? Another set of games in each conference.
Over the past few years, there have been whispers about the NFL expanded its current playoff field to 14 teams from the 12-team format. The highlights of the plan would be to add another game, increase the suspense and make the road to the Super Bowl even tougher.
After this season though, I cannot imagine a reason to include two more teams. It simply seems unnecessary. The quality of the competition would drop. Already we saw what happened with the weakest division winners making the playoffs. Houston was embarrassed by Kansas City and Washington found Green Bay way too much to handle. Any games added by introducing more teams would likely be a bust. Sure, the Jets playing the Patriots in Foxborough would be exciting. Watching Arizona trash a .500 Atlanta team, that is something I could live without. It wouldn’t be good football. These mid-tiered teams would just be outmatched.
Moreover, they don’t deserve it. People spent a great deal of time complaining about how weak the AFC South and NFC East was this season. Across message boards and comment sections, there were calls for the NFL to reformat so that these teams that won each division would not automatically receive a bid to the postseason. The argument was that they did not have good enough records to make the playoffs. In the case of Houston, that turned out to be true, as the Jets had a better record, but the Texans made the playoffs instead. If those teams, who were division winners, were not good enough to qualify for the postseason, then why would teams even further down the list be considered in playoff expansion?
I am of the mentality that for a team to really be good enough to compete in the playoffs, they should have a winning record. Only one team that did not qualify for the postseason this year had a winning record. That was the Jets. Some others were close, like Atlanta and Indianapolis, but they finished at .500. In other words, they were average. It is pretty easy to argue that the Jets did not deserve to make the playoffs either. New York only beat two teams with winning records this year. In the NFL, we don’t want to see average teams make the playoffs. We want the best of the best so we can see some truly iconic and terrific games.
In the NFL, teams are made to be average. It is rare that there are 14 teams nowadays that have winning records. Only once in the past five seasons have there been at least 14 teams above .500 at the end of the season. It is not easy to get those kinds of results any more. The league is full of parity. It is also a bit ambitious to expect close to half the league to win more than half of their games.
The morale here? 12 is good. 12 is great. That potentially even more than we need. It is nice to keep the hope of some Cinderella teams alive (see 2007 Giants, 2009 Cardinals). However, introducing even more of them would just be overkill. It would detract from the postseason more than it would add to it. Let’s just keep this as it is and put this conversation of expansion to bed.