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Two years later, NFL playoff expansion remains a topic of debate

Related: NFL playoff schedule: Divisional round games include Bills vs. Chiefs rematch

AFC Wild Card Playoffs - New England Patriots v Buffalo Bills Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images

As part of its discussions about the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the NFL and NFL Players Association agreed to expand the playoff field starting as early as the 2020 postseason. The league’s 32 owners voted to increase the number of playoff teams from 12 to 14 just a few weeks after, with the move implemented later during the 2020 season.

At the time, SB Nation asked fans whether or not the playoff field would become better or worse by adding a seventh team in each conference. The majority of participants — 57 percent — voted for the latter option.

Almost two years later, fan opinion has changed slightly. According to SB Nation’s latest Reacts survey, 57 percent of fans now believe that expanding the playoffs was a good idea.

That opinion is based on two postseasons worth of experience, and four games featuring seventh-seeded teams. One could argue that the number of fans approving the expansion would be higher had those four contests been more competitive.

So far, after all, the seventh-seeded teams in either conference have not covered themselves in glory: they have lost all four games by an average of almost two touchdowns.

In 2020, the 10-7 Indianapolis Colts lost a 27-24 game to the 14-3 Buffalo Bills while the 8-9 Chicago Bears were beaten 21-9 by the New Orleans Saints. Those two contests were highly competitive affairs compared to this years’: the 9-7-1 Pittsburgh Steelers and 9-8 Philadelphia Eagles lost their games against the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers with final scores of 42-21 and 31-15, respectively.

The fear when playoffs were expanded was that the tournament would be watered down while giving the top-seeded teams a massive advantage with only one bye remaining in each conference. So far, those fears have proven correct.

2020 saw the seventh seeds perform comparatively well in their wild card losses, but they were beaten nonetheless. The top-seeded Chiefs and Buccaneers, meanwhile, advanced to the Super Bowl.

This year, the seventh-seeded teams were both blown out on wild card weekend. Whether or not the top seeds — the Tennessee Titans and Green Bay Packers — will advance to the title game this time remains to be seen; they are in better a situation than the other six teams left standing.

Obviously, though, two years is too small a sample size to make proper judgements about the future of the expanded playoff field. One thing is certain, though: it will not be reversed anytime soon. The NFL, after all, expected an annual revenue boost of $150 million by adding two extra postseason participants and games.

Those have been far from competitive thus far, however, meaning that discussions about the 14-team format will continue.


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