In 1982, the NFL used a 16-team postseason to determine a champion following a nine-game regular season resulting from a strike. In 2020, a 16-team postseason could happen again.
On Tuesday, owners will consider a proposal that would expand the playoffs if any games are lost to the pandemic.
As explained last week, the league’s preference continues to be playing 256 games in 17 weeks. Plan B consists of an eighteenth week, for games that had to be postponed and couldn’t be fit within the 17-week window.
Plan C, an expanded postseason, could happen if even only one game can’t be played despite an 18-week season.
The move, if adopted by the owners, has a clear financial component. It would, put simply, restore losses arising from canceled regular-season games. As explained last week, the NFL Players Association would have to agree to an expanded playoff field; the union would give it serious consideration, if it preserves money lost by players due to lost regular-season games.
Having 16 teams instead of 14 teams in the postseason won’t necessarily cure the perception of unfairness based on some teams playing fewer than 16 games. If the ninth seed in either conference misses the window based on the inability to compare records on an apple-to-apples basis, that team and its fans will be as unhappy as an eighth seed that would have been left out of a 14-team field thanks to winning percentages due to teams playing fewer than 16 games.