Roger Goodell’s truly a mastermind when it comes to controlling the public conversation around his league and sculpting the media’s headlines. Barely 24 hours after some scribes in the NFL working press started to question the motivation behind the since-overturned Bountygate suspensions he delivered in the spring, the commissioner floated the prospect of a 14- or 16-team NFL playoff at the league’s owners meetings in Dallas. By Wednesday, the suspensions overturned by Paul Tagliabue vanished from the headlines.
Now, we’re talking about playoffs. Playoffs.
Thank you Jim, Mora.
The initial reaction to the news on Wednesday was resistance. Why mess with something that’s not broken? Why screw up a perfectly good playoff scenario? Why not just invite the whole league into one 32-team January tournament?
Umm, because there’s money to be made. More of it. And if the NFL can make more money without sacrificing the overall product of the game, it’s going to make it.
As much as I love the current playoff format, and as much as I look forward to that wildcard weekend Saturday night like it’s the best night of the year, doubt any fans or the writers bashing it this week would be kicking and screaming over two or four teams being added to the playoff field.
It’d mean more football. What’s wrong with that?
As for the players, this is certainly a better alternative than an 18-game regular season. And in truth, I’m not even sure the players would be opposed to that if it ever came to a vote. An extra two paychecks — though pro-rated — could be awfully tempting for some of the guys at the bottom of an NFL roster not making millions of dollars to play football. The extra $50,000-$100,000 for two more games could be awfully difficult for the 25th through 53rd men on a roster to turn down.
But back to the potential 14- or 16-team playoffs.
Remember, when the league expanded to a 12-team playoff in 1990, there were only 28 NFL franchises. There was similar backlash at the thought of wildcards being handed out to non-division winners. How’d that turn out? Wildcard weekend is arguably the best weekend of the entire NFL season now. The playoffs would just seem odd without them.
As for the argument that an expanded field would “dilute” the NFL’s postseason product, that’s just ridiculous. Watching the Chiefs and Raiders play in Week 17 of a regular season is diluting the NFL product, but if an 8-8 Bengals team or a 9-7 Redskins team snuck into the playoffs at No. 8 seeds and played in a postseason opening weekend, I can’t imagine the product being all that diminished. Jaguars-Cardinals in January wouldn’t be all that interesting. But top-seeded Atlanta vs. No. 8 Dallas in Atlanta? I can go for that. Sign me up.
Consider these first-round matchups this year, if we were to extend the playoffs to a traditional 16-team tournament and the regular season ended last weekend:
No. 1 Houston vs. No. 8 New York
No. 2 New England vs. No. 7 Cincinnati
No. 3 Denver vs. No. 6 Pittsburgh
No. 4 Baltimore vs. No. 5 Indianapolis
No. 1 Atlanta vs. No. 8 Dallas
No. 2 San Francisco vs. No. 7 Washington
No. 3 Green Bay vs. No. 6 Chicago
No. 4 New York Giants vs. No. 5 Seattle
You’d be disappointed with that? That’d really change the way you view, approach, and base your entire January around the NFL playoffs?
Of course it wouldn’t.
Times change. Life evolves. There’s more money out there. If we’ve learned anything from the NFL, it’s that when there’s more money to be made, the league is going to find a way to make it. Fans attend media day at the Super Bowl now. Anything’s possible.
Nothing’s sacrificed by the proposed playoff expansion. It’s OK. Change is good. Goodell’s got the fans’ best interests in mind. He wouldn’t move forward with something that’d weaken the greatest game going.
But, back to Bountygate. Because, the thing with that is …
Oh, you already forgot about that whole mess?
Goodell really is pretty good at this commissioner thing, isn’t he?