Given the fact that the Pittsburgh Steelers’ game against the Baltimore Ravens has been postponed several times, and more than half of the league has been dealing with Covid-19 cases in the past week, talk has been accelerating with regards to the league’s recently-passed proposal to expand the postseason slate to 16 teams, eight per conference, which would eliminate bye weeks altogether.
Many who are prone to finding patterns in life whether they are actually present or not have come to the conclusion that this is what the NFL wants; however, evidence points to the contrary. If they were angling for an expanded postseason, then they would be pushing regular season games back to force the creation of an 18th week.
The only way that the playoff expansion would be triggers is if the NFL was unable to complete every meaningful game by the end of an 18th week. In other words, at least one team whose games would involve playoff implications would have to have two games postponed into a theoretical 19th week before we would be discussing a 16-team playoffs.
The logic behind the expansion is this: if teams who are in the running for the postseason are unable to complete their full 16-game schedule, then rather than penalize them for not having the opportunity to win a game they were not able to play, they would simply expand the field to include the ‘runners up’ for hypothetical eighth seeds as something of a fairness measure.
I have seen people suggesting that the NFL refusing to postpone the Ravens and Broncos games is a step toward the league forcing this expansion, but it’s exactly the opposite. The fact that the league is hellbent on avoiding an 18th week is in direct opposition to any imagined goal of reaching an expanded postseason for 2020.
“The resolution passed today established criteria for postseason eligibility in the event that all clubs cannot play the same number of regular season games”, commissioner Roger Goodell said back on November 10 when the proposal was passed, defining meaningful games as any game that would have an impact on the postseason.
In other words, we have a long way to go before we are even in the territory of discussing a 16-team playoffs this year, and the NFL just passed on two golden opportunities to try to nudge the discussion in that direction, if that’s really what their goal was.
But it’s not their goal. Their goal is to be able to say that they were the only major sports league in the United States that was able to play an uninterrupted season, beginning when it was supposed to, ending when it was supposed to, and playing every game that had meaning to the postseason.
The only real news in the proposal passing is that it seemingly eliminates for consideration a possible 19th week. Teams will get one ‘bonus’ week to make up whatever games they might miss in the final five weeks, and if that’s not enough, then they will just have to have fewer games played.