Teams will say success in the NFL is measured by winning Super Bowls. Under that standard, even the Patriots would be pissed off more often than they’d be satisfied.
The real goal for every team (and for the league) is to be relevant to the postseason chase for as long into the regular season as possible. This keeps fans of each team fully engaged for as long as possible, ideally into late December. That process begins in September, with an effort to persuade every fan of every team that plausible hope exists that this year could be the year.
Not the year to win it all. But, for starters, the year to get to the playoffs. Then, when only 12 teams remain and the format is single elimination, maybe it really will be the year.
Commissioner Roger Goodell knows that maximum success for the league comes from maximum fans thinking that their team can make it to the postseason this year. He concludes a season-opening letter (touting changes to officiating, health and safety, celebrations, and pace/presentation enhancements) with this reminder to all fans: “Continuing a decades-long trend, we had numerous teams that missed the postseason in 2015 — Atlanta, Dallas, Detroit, Miami, the New York Giants, and Oakland — advance to the 2016 playoffs. Who will it be this year? Will it be your team? It’s time to find out. Let the show begin!”
It begins on Thursday night, with the defending champions hosting one of the other final-eight teams from 2016. And Goodell is right; since the playoff field expanded to 12 in 1990, a trend of 50-percent turnover has emerged.
That’s good news for the 20 teams that didn’t make it last year, bad news for the 12 that did, and great news from a league that thrives when there’s a perception that any year can be the year.
Except, of course, this year, when the Patriots apparently will get their fingerprints on a sixth Lombardi Trophy.
Well, for the rest of the league maybe next year will be the year.