The league has its reasons for expanding the playoffs. 47.1 million of them, precisely.
That’s the size of the audience for Sunday’s wild-card game between the 49ers and Packers.
Speaking at an event in New York City on Tuesday night, Commissioner Roger Goodell acknowledged that momentum exists for expanding the postseason, via Bart Hubbuch of the New York Post.
Expansion, which recently was touted by Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, would entail the addition of one team per conference. That team, a third non-division winner and No. 7 seed overall, would play the No. 2 seed in the wild-card round. Thus, only two teams per year — the top team in each conference — would get a bye.
The addition of two playoff teams wouldn’t necessarily spark a shuffling of the current seeds, with division winners potentially losing their automatic home games in the opening round. Goodell said there’s no momentum within the league for change in the seeding, even though he acknowledged that there may indeed be momentum within the media.
As we explained on Monday night’s edition of Pro Football Talk on NBCSN, the current system potentially makes for improved wild-card games by requiring the team with the better record to play the lesser team in its own building. With the 12-4 49ers traveling to face the 8-7-1 Packers and the 11-5 Saints going on the road to play the 10-6 Eagles, the home-field advantage arguably equalized the talent gap and mades for more competitive games.
More importantly, a different seeding structure wouldn’t result in more money for the league. Expanding the playoffs would generate more revenue by making two more big-ticket games available — especially in light of Sunday’s audience for the game at Lambeau Field.
Goodell said that the expanded wild-card round could begin on Friday, something he mentioned at quarterly meetings in October. But that would result in teams having only five days’ rest before playing an inherently intense and physically demanding playoff game.
It would make more sense — and more money — to stick with the current structure on Saturday, add a night game on Sunday, and place the second extra game on Monday night, with the winner of the Monday night game guaranteed to play on the following Sunday in the divisional round.
On the issue of expanded revenue (one of the favorite topics of any business), it also would make sense to play a divisional-round game on Monday night, along with a conference title game on Monday night.
Sure, it’d create inconveniences and potential unfairness. But inconveniences and unfairness can easily be justified if the outcome entails an expansion of the league’s overall cash pie.
The first step, which will more than offset the inevitable reduction of the preseason, will come from an expanded playoff field. While it’s not final, it’s inevitable.