Extended Playoffs Could Change Team Fate

Lovie Smith’s tenure as Chicago coach would hardly have been cut if the Bears had advanced to the playoffs in their last three seasons.

Instead, Chicago stayed one place below the one that had awarded postseason tickets in the past two years.


The Cleveland and Tampa Bay playoff droughts wouldn’t be as long as they are now, or by mistake, if the Browns and Buccaneers had advanced as third wildcards of their conference in the 2007 and 2016 seasons, respectively.

The last two Super Bowl champions would have faced more difficulties in doing so. Kansas City in 2019 and New England in 2018 would have had to play wild card games instead of resting in the first week of the playoffs.

The NFL decision, which will expand the postseason from 12 to 14 teams starting next season, could have a considerable impact on the league, if it serves as a benchmark in the past.

Although some will complain that more ranked teams imply lower quality, the proportion of teams that have advanced to the playoffs with 32 franchises under the new format (43%) almost equals the 44% that had been recorded from 1990 to 1994, when the league, then 28 squads, last expanded the postseason, from 10 to 12 guests.

The NFL has played in the form of eight division winners and four wild cards since 2002, when Houston joined the league as an expansion franchise.

During this period, the difference in the average record for the team that remains seventh in each conference (9.1 wins per season) has been insignificant compared to the worst team that has entered the playoffs each season (9, 2), either as divisional monarch and fourth seed or as second wild card.

In all, 23 franchises would have benefited from one more playoff passage, led by Minnesota and Pittsburgh, with four additional trips to the team playoffs. New Orleans, Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Tennessee, and Tampa Bay (yes, the Bucs who haven’t advanced to the playoffs since 2007) would have had two more postseason appearances.

Under the format implemented since 2002, no team with more defeats than wins would have obtained the third wild card. On nine occasions, the additional guest would have added at least 10 wins. And at eight, it would have been at the .500 mark.