By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Here's all that matters about the NFL's new playoff structure that's expected to start in 2020. Essentially, they're trading a preseason game for a playoff game.
Throwing a wrench into that theory is that the league is also expected to expand the regular season to 17 games, according to a new report by ESPN's Adam Schefter. So there's real concern about adding more meh football to the end of the regular season, typically filled with teams gearing down as they prepare for the playoffs with their seeds locked up. But it's still going to be real games, that count - potentially with good teams getting into Wild Card weekend.
And there's little question about it that, thanks to the Patriots, there's now a warped sense of what's a "good" or "bad" team is. The 2019 Los Angeles Rams were not a bad team. At 9-7 they would have been in had the new playoff format been in place, and would have faced the Packers in the NFC Wild Card round. That's a perfectly acceptable playoff game, at worst.
In the AFC it would have been the Steelers, who would have headed to Kansas City to face the Chiefs. Pittsburgh was a mediocre 8-8 - absolutely dreadful by New England standards - but their last game against K.C. in 2018 was a 42-37 barnburner, one in which Patrick Mahomes threw six touchdown passes. No Ben Roethlisberger would have put a damper on that matchup, but let's not act like we're adding an 0-16 to the playoffs here.
There may be a legitimate gripe with the additional regular season game. That changes nothing in terms of playoff races or seeding. Just another standard week. Logically speaking, Week 18 will be the new Week 17. But just boil it down to one simple fact: you're getting another week of real games, even if they don't count for much beyond your mere Sunday entertainment.
Another potential concern is that there's now just one bye week in each conference. That has now become the most important playoff spot in all of sports. To be fair the Patriots' Week 17 game against the Dolphins would have been meaningless for a bye. But if you're a Patriots fan, you could also look at it this way: if the Patriots take care of business against Miami, they're facing the Steelers at home. Think they're missing the divisional round in that scenario?
But let's circle back to the most important thing. Wild Card weekend will now be six games. It would be just like a regular Sunday, just without the frenetic switcharoos of RedZone. The football world would be locked on a full day's worth of playoff competition.
That's better than spending three and a half hours sitting around waiting for the football to start, or figuring out what the hell to watch at night after being in football mode all day. There's more gambling, there's more daily fantasy, there's more competing for the most viral tweets. Many who dislike the idea of more football would have every game fused to their bones by that point.
It's fair to wonder if the NFL is ever going to finally hit a real saturation point. These changes will be predicted as that moment in some circles, but the league probably has to go even further. Maybe they expand to Saturday every week. Twenty playoff teams. Tuesday Night Football, anyone?
But you know who seems to like these changes, for the most part? The players. According to Schefter, the team that earns the first-round bye gets playoff game checks. There's also going to be a shift of $5 billion in revenue to the players' side as part of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. They'll have financial motivations to go with their aspirations of playing for the right to go to the Super Bowl.
It's more football, and by the time Week 18 rolls around most fans may be fine with it. There's already plenty of time to have no football in late February and the start of March before free agency ramps up. There's still the bye weeks. An extra couple weeks of real games isn't going to plunge the world into football fatigue.
That may happen one day, but it won't be here. It's still better to have more football than no football.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at [email protected].