The NFL already went through one playoff expansion this year, going from 12 to 14 teams and creating two new playoff games (which are set to be aired by CBS and NBC). But before that new format (part of the new collective bargaining agreement with the NFLPA) even has a chance to kick in for the first time, it might be further altered thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported Monday that the league’s competition committee is planning to present a resolution to owners for a contingency plan for a 16-team playoff, which would take effect if “games are lost”:
NFL competition committee expects to present a resolution to owners based on a contingency of having a 16-team playoff season (8 in each conference) if games are lost due to the pandemic, especially as bye weeks disappear, according to league sources. Committee met by zoom today.
— Chris Mortensen (@mortreport) November 2, 2020
Mark Maske of The Washington Post added that it’s not clear yet how many games would need to be lost to trigger this:
The NFL competition committee will present a proposal to the owners for an alternative of 16 playoff teams (instead of 14) if regular season games are canceled and can't be made up, source says. The number of lost games to trigger that is not specified, according to that source.
— MarkMaske (@MarkMaske) November 2, 2020
It’s unclear exactly how this would work, but one possibility is just taking out the first-round byes (similar to the format used in the NBA and NHL, and what was used in MLB this year and possibly going forward). The NFL’s 12-team system used from 1990-2019 included first-round byes for the #1 and #2 seed in each conference, but this year’s changes were set to only 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, it seems likely these could head to Fox and ESPN/ABC. And that’s a big deal, given the massive viewership NFL playoff games draw.
Of course, this is all quite preliminary at this point. We don’t have a full proposed structure under the contingency plan, and we don’t have details on how many games would need to be cancelled to trigger this, or exactly what would happen in terms of picking playoff teams if this did happen. (Would the league move to a full points-per-game model the way Major League Soccer has, or would they give priority to teams that did play 16 games but let other teams in at the bottom?) And this may wind up never happening.
But with a new wave of positive COVID tests hitting several NFL teams this week, it’s not hard to envision a scenario where the league’s teams don’t all get 16 games in. So it’s logical that the competition committee is at least talking about another option. We’ll see how that goes.
[Chris Mortensen on Twitter]