Tuesday, May 22, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Expand NFL playoffs? Nah, let's keep dandy dozen

Ideas can fool you. Sometimes, the worst of them can sound pretty good at the start.

For instance, you like football, don't you? Doesn't everyone?

Also, you like the playoffs. Nothing like throwing a trophy into the middle of the drama, is there?

Given that, you probably really like playoff football. The passion. The intensity. The complete absence of blackouts. I'm not saying that the playoffs are like holidays, but in a perfect world, they would come with their own reindeer.

And so, when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suggested this week that there could be even more playoffs — playoffs as far as your remote control can reach — your immediate reaction was probably to stand and cheer. More playoffs? Why, yes. And if you can work in more money and more savings and bigger portions, then January would be perfect.

Yeah, expanding the playoffs sounds like a fine idea, doesn't it?

Except that, no, it isn't.

And this time, former commissioner Paul Tagliabue shouldn't have to explain to Goodell why he is wrong.

You know what more playoffs would mean? They would mean the regular season would have less importance. They would mean the postseason would have more mediocrity. They would mean a greater health risk for the players.

Also, a cynic might suggest that, with more games to sell to the networks, they could also mean more profits for the owners. Call it increase-the-bounty-gate.

I suspect that Goodell is aware of all of this. On the other hand, he is a man in need of changing the subject these days. If teams are debating a fatter playoff system, then maybe they won't mention how bad he looked after the Saints' bounty case.

Still, the playoffs should be difficult to reach. The pursuit of a championship should be reserved for those who deserve it.

Hey, if football was meant to have 16-team playoffs, it would been called hockey. (You remember hockey, don't you?) And I'm sure people would watch anything called a playoff, no matter if their favorite team was average or less. Still, are the playoffs a TV show or a competition for a championship?

As it is, there is plenty of room for greatness in a 12-team playoff. Every now and then, a deserving team is squeezed out of the playoffs (the 11-5 New England team in 2008, for instance), but it doesn't happen very often.

On the other hand, if the NFL had allowed four more teams a year over the past decade, it would have had only four more 10-plus wins teams in the playoffs. In contrast, it would have added 14 more 8-8 teams, plus a 7-9 Carolina Panthers team in 2004.

Would adding those teams really have enriched the playoffs? How? What would be enticing about watching the NFL hosting its own series of Peach Bowls?

In other words, more isn't always better. There is a reason we don't have Christmas twice a month. Sometimes, things are more special because they are exclusive.

Besides, two more playoff slots per team might change history.

Take the Bucs, for instance:

If two more teams per conference made the playoffs, then Raheem Morris' Bucs would have made the playoffs in 2010. Might that have saved his job despite a terrible finish to the 2011 season?

Wait. Morris might not even have gotten the job. Despite the Bucs' December fade in 2008, they would have made an expanded playoffs that year. Who knows? Maybe Jon Gruden wouldn't have been fired.

Wait. If there were an expanded playoffs in 1998, Tony Dungy's Bucs would have made the playoffs. That means that he would have gone to five straight playoffs at the end of the 2001 season. Would that have saved his job?

Wait. If there were an expanded playoffs in 1996, Sam Wyche would have been in the running for the postseason his last year. His team was 7-7. One more win, and it might have made the postseason.

And so on and so on.

Most fans seem to agree that too many teams make the NHL and NBA playoffs. Most seem to believe there are too many bowl games. Some baseball purists howled when an extra wild-card team was added a year ago. When college football finally agreed on a playoff system, it was careful to set the number at four teams. Anything more would have devalued the regular season.

Same with the NFL. Twelve teams advance, 20 do not.

If you are interested in the integrity of the playoffs, that ratio sounds about right.

Listen to Gary Shelton weekdays from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. on 98.7-FM the Fan.

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