Roger Goodell is bound and determined that the NFL playoffs need expanding, and make no mistake, it is going to happen. The extra money that will be generated from two extra playoff games is just too tempting for the commissioner and the owners. The official vote on expansion could come as soon as the May 20th owners meeting in Atlanta. I can see no scenario in which the owners would vote down a playoff expansion. There is no downside for them, at least in the short term.
But what about the negative effects of a watered down playoff system in the long run? The expansion only calls for one extra team per conference to get into the “tournament”, but that could be the tipping point that starts a slight decline in the perfection that is the NFL season. Other than the obvious revenue increase, there is no good reason to change a playoff system that everyone loves.
Roger Goodell gave an interview with Rich Eisen of the NFL Network last week, and stated that adding another couple of teams to the playoff mix would just make things more competitive. He reasoned that a #7 seed could get hot and actually win the Super Bowl, and that is a true statement. But the question is, whether that hot team should even have a chance to knock off a #1 or #2 seeded team that had a record deserving of a playoff run. Any team can get rolling and pull off some upsets, however, the regular season has to stay relevant. Allowing two more teams into the playoffs, if only slightly, makes the NFL regular season less important.
Another likely aspect of this playoff shake up is that the #2 seed from each conference will no longer receive a first round bye. That is a big deal in my eyes. It will be a bigger deal to those teams that fight and claw for the best record in their conference, only to fall just short and end up at the #2 spot. They get the pleasure of playing the same amount of playoff games as a #7 seed, who might have stumbled into the playoffs at 8-8. An unintended consequence of this situation could be some teams resting starters in the last couple of regular season games. A first round bye would be worth fighting for in week 16, but without that incentive, I can see a coach sitting his superstars and settling with a #3 or #4 seed.
I know it must be hard for the commish and the NFL owners to turn down more income. They need to grow the game to generate that income. That is the American way. But eventually the game will be hurt by tweaking it. Bigger is not always better and quality still matters to many of us. Twenty years from now if the NFL popularity has faded somewhat, this playoff expansion might be one of the pivotal points that began that decline.