It’s staggering how lawyerly Roger Goodell’s speech is, packed with numerous conditionals and non-definite phrases meant to obscure meaning, but you can usually tell what he means, even if he’s not saying it any uncertain terms. In an extended public interview in Manhattan on Tuesday night, Goodell discussed a range of topics, speaking least indirectly about the NFL’s desire to expand the playoffs to 14 teams: “It’s something that the competition committee looked at last year and thinks there are some real benefits from a competitive standpoint.”
This is obviously a good idea from the NFL’s perspective, by which I mean it will make it more money, and so we can expect it to implement it in the near future. If it can’t tack two additional weeks of games on to the regular season schedule (yet), the least it can do is add two playoff matchups. There tends to be some complaining whenever a sporting body decides to expand their playoff format about how it cheapens the regular season — see the whinging about Major League Baseball recently adding a one-game wild card playoff — but it’s not an issue that’s going to stop anyone from watching a sport they like. The NFL may or may not publicly address these sorts of concerns, but it won’t actually care about them.
There is the question, though, of how this 14-team format would work, from a logistics standpoint. What the NFL would do, as outlined by Goodell, is take the second seed in each conference and make it play the seventh seed on wild-card weekend. So, this year, we would have had the Steelers visiting the Patriots and the Bears visiting the Panthers with the Broncos and Seahawks getting a bye. Two winners from the opening round in each conference would play each other during what’s now called the Divisional Weekend, and the other one would play the one seed. Was anyone outside of Pittsburgh or Chicago clamoring to see those teams in the playoffs? No matter. It’s football, and people will watch.
The league hasn’t sorted out scheduling yet. Goodell talked about the possibility of having one game Friday night, two on Saturday, two on Sunday and one on Monday night. I would prefer if they just packed Saturday and Sunday with three games each, but I’m sure the NFL has people who can and will market test what jibes best with people’s preferences and schedules. This will be the only decision in which fan input will matter. We’ll get whatever the surveys spit out, and the marketing team will rebrand wild-card weekend as even more epic and [bald eagle explodes] than it already is.
This is all fine, if a bit wearying, in the way a greater quantity of meaningful football is fine, though “meaningful” shouldn’t be confused with “well-played.” How excited you are about the possibility of playoff expansion is a question of why you like watching the postseason. Is it acceptable to have more competitive games on the schedule at a minor cost in quality? Do you like any old close game, or do you especially prefer ones involving excellent teams? This is a matter of taste, which you can’t be wrong about. But regardless of what you feel, change is coming. Get happy or annoyed or make peace.