The NFL was able to conduct a little business yesterday, attending to some significant stray issues that were scheduled to be addressed at this time during the previously-canceled Spring owners meetings. In lieu of the event, which was scheduled to be hosted in Tampa, the owners held a conference call instead, during which they voted to approve the plan to expand the playoffs to seven seeds, with three wildcards in each conference, and stripping the second seed of a first-round bye.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are not typically the team to be the most enthusiastic about changes the league wants to make, truth be told, unless it is a matter of player safety, but they have seemed to be on-board with recent shifts, or at least have been willing to play the good sport about it.
General manager Kevin Colbert, for example, put his support behind the expanded playoffs yesterday. “I am excited about that. Not that we want too many teams in the playoffs, but I thought 12 was a little too little”, he said. “Maybe that 17th game (which will not be added until 2021 at the earliest) will be influential in who those extra teams will be. The more teams we can have compete for a championship the better it will be for our game”.
While the MLB remains the major team sport in the United States to hold the fewest percentage of its constituent teams into a postseason tournament, even with the expansion of the field to 14 teams, the NFL’s competitive field remains less ‘watered-down’ than either the NHL or the NBA. Both leagues see more than half of their teams participate in the postseason.
The Steelers may admittedly hold some bias when it comes to discussing the expansion of the postseason into a third wildcard seed. Since 2012, they have missed the playoffs four times, including in each of the past two years. Only in one of those years did they enter Week 17 with no hope of reaching the playoffs, but in all four years, they would have been the number seven seed. In three of those years, they had an 8-8 record, but they were 9-6-1 in 2018 and narrowly missed winning the AFC North by half a game.
Since 1990, a first-seeded team has won the Super Bowl just over half the time. But the second seed has won over a quarter of the time as well, including each of the past two Super Bowl champions, among them the Kansas City Chiefs in 2019. They would have had to play an additional game in the first round of the postseason under the current format. In this case, they would have hosted the Steelers in the Wildcard Round.