NFL Considering Playoff Expansion for 2020

2020 has been a year unlike any other, and that has applied to the NFL as well. The league opted against a bubble(s) format in favor of a traditional schedule, despite the risks involved flying across the country. It hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing, but thanks to some nimble schedule-juggling, the first eight weeks of the season are in the books.

But with a second wave of the coronavirus expected by many medical professionals this winter, it’s difficult to predict how that might affect the sports world, particularly the NFL, the only of the four major sports currently in season.

Eight Playoff Teams in Each Conference

In light of potential bumps in the road, it was reported on Monday that the NFL’s competition committee will be proposing a plan to all NFL owners to expand this year’s playoffs to 16 teams. Before the start of the season, it had already been expanded by one team in each conference for a total of 14, but this new proposal would add one more for eight in the NFC and eight in the AFC.

The impetus for the proposal lies in the idea that future bye weeks could disappear with more potential positive tests and the inability to further shuffle the schedule. Under this new scenario, there would be no byes for any of the top seeds, immediately going to the first round. Keep in mind, this is just a contingency in the event of future cancellations. If everything can stay status quo for the remainder of the season, the league would stick with the 14-team playoff format with each conference’s top seed earning the bye.

The NFL’s 12-team system used from 1990-2019 included first-round byes for the top two seeds in each conference, but this year’s changes were set only to give a first-round bye to the top team. Now, that first-round bye could disappear altogether, and that would lead to two more playoff games. And with the previous extra games going to CBS and NBC, these could likely head to Fox and ESPN/ABC.

It remains unclear how many canceled games it would take to trigger this contingency plan and whether or not they would follow a similar model to the NBA’s seeding games upon that league’s restart.

As it Stands Now

If the regular season were to end today, the top seed in the AFC would be the Steelers, who at 7-0 are the only undefeated team remaining in the NFL, so there would be no disputing their positioning. As it stands, the eighth seed would go to the Las Vegas Raiders, who, despite having the same 4-3 record as the Miami Dolphins, would get in based on strength of victory.

In the NFC, the Seahawks would be the top seed with the Bears as the eight-seed with no tie-breakers necessary. The lone drama (again, only if the season were to end in November) would be for the fifth seed, which would go to New Orleans over Arizona based on best win percentage in conference games.