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NFL heading to 17-game season, playoff expansion


NFL owners will meet in New York City this Thursday to discuss a wide range of topics including a new collective bargaining agreement. According to CBS NFL Insider Jason La Canfora, the NFL owners do not expect any sort of vote to take place on Thursday during their meeting, but it remains possible that the new CBA gets done at the NFL combine next week.

The players will also go along with the 17-game schedule if the owners agree to fulfill some other requests such as fewer training camp and regular season practices. But the regular season isn't the only place where we can expect some new games.

If you were hoping for a new NFL playoff structure in the near future, it appears you may be in luck.

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the current CBA proposal has seven teams from each conference making the playoffs -- instead of six -- with only one team receiving a first-round bye per conference.

"That's been agreed to for a long time," one source familiar with the CBA talks said to ESPN about the NFL's new playoff structure. "There wasn't a lot of disagreement to that issue."

If you were wondering what that would have looked like this year, it would have been the Pittsburgh Steelers visiting the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC, while the Los Angeles Rams would have visited the Green Bay Packers in the NFC.

In addition to receiving a first-round bye, teams that clinch the No. 1 seed in their respective conference will also receive postseason pay for the weekend they technically have off. Under the current CBA, teams did not receive pay for acquiring a first-round bye.

While the new playoff format is expected to take effect immediately if a CBA is passed, the 17-game schedule wouldn't come until 2021. Along with the expanded regular season, the preseason would reportedly be shortened from four games to three.

Expanding the current playoff format will introduce (more) mediocrity into a postseason that should be reserved for the best.

The NFL postseason has been perfect in my eyes. And since that magical Baltimore Ravens run following the 2012 season, no team from either conference has made the Super Bowl without being a top-two seed. Obviously, being a top-two seed means you spent four months more or less proving you're among the best in the league, but being able to save your body from one more game than your opponent appears to be a material advantage.

Had this rule be in place before this season, not only would the 8-8 Steelers gotten into the playoffs, but the Kansas City Chiefs would have hosted them on Wild-Card Weekend. It would have been a purposeless game (well, the purpose would have been to make more money) that only would have put a legitimate Super Bowl-contending team and their face-of-the-NFL quarterback unnecessarily in harm's way.

Then, all things being the same, had Kansas City and San Francisco still met in South Florida for Super Bowl LIV, it would seem to me that the Niners would have had a distinct advantage of having played one fewer postseason game.

And so you say, "So what? This makes winning the regular season that much more important!" And yes, obviously it does. Adding a 17th game to the schedule makes for a longer and more competitive season as 44% of the league vies for a postseason berth.

The margins throughout the league are razor-thin. In my opinion, at the top of the league each year, the margins are imperceptible. Giving just one team from each conference the weekend off is too great an advantage, especially considering that top seed can and eventually will be decided by tiebreakers.

This doesn't make the playoffs more competitive. It waters down the field. Could a seven seed catch fire and make a run like a handful of six seeds have in years past? Absolutely. But the postseason should be an exclusive club.

The reason for the change is, of course, money. The league is always looking for new revenue streams (but curiously continues to leave jersey-ad patches on the shelf), and a 17th regular-season game plus another game on Wild-Card Weekend will achieve that. Consider, too, that the NFL is set to cash in when the next round of TV contracts are up following the 2022 season, and these consistent $10 million spikes in the salary cap the last several years will soon look like little more than year-to-year inflation adjustments.

Change is upon us and, if you agree with me, there's nothing that can be done. I just dislike fixing things that aren't broken, and that's what this proposed change feels like.

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