NFL Considers Playoff Expansion in 2015, Reducing Preseason

The National Football League is considering an expanded postseason that would boost the number of teams in the playoffs to 14 from 12 within two years.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said yesterday at the league meetings in Washington that playoff expansion is a priority for the league’s competition committee in 2014. Because of scheduling issues and negotiations with the players’ union and television partners, the earliest such a change would be implemented is after the 2015 season, Goodell said.

An expansion of the NFL postseason might also include a reduction of the current four-game preseason schedule. Goodell said while there’s still “a lot to be done” in the evaluation process, the NFL’s goal is to create more fan interest.

“Does expanding the postseason allow other teams to get into the dance with the potential of going on and winning the Super Bowl?” Goodell said at a news conference at the conclusion of the fall owners meeting. “That is a good thing for fans. It is a good thing competitively. The games are so close that it is realistic to think a team can have a great second half, get into the playoffs and win the Super Bowl.”

Expanding the playoffs might help the NFL’s 32 teams offset financial losses from a shorter preseason schedule in addition to boosting the league’s television revenue. The sale of season-ticket packages in the NFL include a team’s eight home games as well as two preseason contests, which bring in additional concession and parking revenue.

Much of the NFL’s annual revenue of $9.7 billion is split evenly among the league’s 32 teams.

“We need to continue to evaluate the quality of the preseason,” Goodell said. “I don’t think it matches the quality of what we do in the NFL, and we have to address that.”

12 Teams

The NFL has had a 12-team postseason since 1990. The current playoff format of four division winners and two wild-card teams from each conference has been in place since the league’s realignment in 2002.

The format for having seven playoff teams from each conference would still have to be determined, though Goodell said it’s probable there would be six games -- three in both the AFC and NFC -- during the opening week of the postseason. There are currently four games in the first round of the playoffs, with two in each conference, involving the four wild-card teams and the four lowest-seeded division winners.

Goodell said it’s possible that three first-round playoff games could be played Saturday and three more on Sunday under a 14-team format, or all the games could be spread out to include matchups on Friday and Monday as well.

“There are competitive consequences in there and television consequences,” Goodell said. “If we do this, we want to do it right, so we have to evaluate all those issues and balance them.”