Update 3/31/2020: NFL owners approve 14-team playoff format for the 2020 season
As expected, NFL owners voted to approve the league’s new playoff format on Tuesday. The following statement was released shortly after initial reports about the result broke:
NFL clubs voted today to expand the postseason by two teams beginning with the 2020 season. Expanding the NFL postseason was addressed in the new NFL-NFLPA Collective Bargaining Agreement. Players and clubs both recognized that nothing energizes fans like the chance to see their team qualify for the playoffs and compete for the Super Bowl.
Today’s vote during a league meeting held remotely follows the recommendation of the Competition Committee, Management Council Executive Committee and Media Committee on increasing the number of playoff teams from 12 to 14.
Two additional Wild Card teams – one each in the American and National Football Conferences – will qualify for the playoffs. The No. 1 seed in each conference will receive a bye in the Wild Card round. The remaining division champions in each conference with the best records will be seeded 2, 3, and 4, followed by the next three teams per conference with the best records seeded 5, 6, and 7.
AFC and NFC Wild Card games will feature the 2 seed hosting the 7 seed, the 3 seed hosting the 6 seed and the 4 seed hosting the 5 seed.
Wild Card Weekend for the 2020 season will consist of three games on Saturday, January 9, and three games on Sunday, January 10, 2021.
The league’s statement also pointed out that CBS will broadcast one additional wild card contest on January 10 at 4:40 p.m. ET. NBC and Telemundo, meanwhile, will broadcast the second, starting at 8:15 p.m. ET on January 10.
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Original story 3/31/2020: NFL owners expected to approve increased playoff field for the 2020 season later today
As part of the collective bargaining negotiations between NFL ownership and the NFL Players Association, both sides agreed to increase the league’s playoff field from 12 to 14 teams as early as the 2020 season. All that is needed for the change to be implemented would be a vote by the owners. That vote will take place later today, according to a report by NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, and is expected to approve the new-look format.
With the NFL’s annual meeting being canceled in light of the Coronavirus pandemic, the 32 owners will hold a conference call to discuss changing the playoffs among other topics. Adding one more team as well as an additional postseason game per conference, after all, requires a re-seeding of the tournament as well as a decision on the broadcasting rights associated with the extra games. Three-fourths of the owners need to agree for proposals to pass.
While the broadcasting has no impact on the schedule, re-seeding the two conferences to fit a seventh team in is a major change compared to the currently established format. After all, the two-bye system would be eliminated and only the conferences’ top seeds would have wild card weekend off. This would naturally make the number one seed much more valuable, and give the teams earning it an enormous advantage over the rest of a somewhat watered-down playoff field.
For what it is worth — apparently little compared to the bottom line of having one more postseason contest to promote and sell — NFL fans are not in favor of adding two more teams to the playoff contention: as part of SB Nation’s FanPulse survey last month, 57 percent of participants shared the opinion that a 14-team playoff field and all that it entails in terms of the format will ultimately make the tournament a worse one.
From the New England Patriots’ perspective, there would have been considerable changes had the new format already been in place since the league’s divisional realignment in 2002: they would have earned a bye week only seven instead of twelve times, and also made the playoffs in 2008 when quarterback Matt Cassel replaced an injured Tom Brady. Meanwhile, the road to the Super Bowl certainly would have been a harder one in both 2004 and 2018 with the Patriots having to play extra games as the number two seed.