There is growing support within the league for expanding the NFL playoff field by two teams, likely beginning in the 2015 season, and the chances are increasing that the franchise owners will consider and potentially vote on such a proposal when they meet next month, according to several people familiar with the deliberations on the issue.
“I think there's a lot of momentum for it,” one of those people said. “I don't know for sure if the votes are there yet (among the owners) or not. But there is momentum. A lot of people seem in favor of it.”
The NFL's competition committee has been studying the possibility of adding one playoff team in each conference, increasing the league-wide postseason field from 12 to 14 teams. That would result in one team in each conference receiving a first-round playoff bye instead of the current two. There would be a total of six games played league-wide on the opening weekend of the postseason rather than the current four.
Some owners and NFL executives view an expanded playoff field as a sensible means for the sport to increase its television revenues. Another person familiar with the matter said the measure is thought by many owners to have the support of Commissioner Roger Goodell.
“I do think the commissioner wants it,” that person said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized by the league to comment publicly on the internal deliberations. “I'm not exactly sure when it might get voted in. But if the commissioner wants it, I assume it'll happen at some point.”
The owners are scheduled to gather late next month in Orlando at the annual league meeting. The measure would need to be ratified by 24 of the 32 owners to go into effect. One person close to the situation said it is possible but “too soon to know for certain” that the competition committee will make a formal recommendation to the owners on playoff expansion at next month's meeting.
Some owners are apparently wary of the potential for de-valuing a playoff spot by allowing too many teams into the postseason. But such concerns could be offset by the potential for increased TV revenues.
One particularly attractive feature could be having a first-round playoff game take place on a Monday night. The league currently seems to favor having two Saturday games, three Sunday games and one Monday night game on the opening weekend of the postseason if the change is implemented, according to a person with knowledge of the deliberations. There are now two Saturday games and two Sunday games on that playoff weekend.
Goodell has said in the past he thinks such a change would be unlikely to take effect before the 2015 season. That probably will remain the target for implementation of the measure, although some of those close to the deliberations said they do not completely rule out an attempt being made to have the proposal take effect next season. It appears possible that the owners could take a vote next month even if the measure would not go into effect until the 2015 season.
Several people said an expanded playoff field does not necessarily have to be put into effect at the same time as a proposed reduction of the preseason, particularly since the league's deliberations on how to go about cutting the preseason do not appear to be as far along.
The owners apparently have put aside a previous proposal to lengthen the regular season from 16 to 18 games per team, in conjunction with reducing the preseason, after it was strongly opposed by the players' union during the labor negotiations that led to the 2011 collective bargaining agreement between the two sides. Expanding the playoff field seems to have replaced lengthening the regular season as the owners' currently favored proposal for generating additional revenues that would more than offset any revenue loss associated with cutting the preseason.
DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFL Players Association, said late last month, three days before the Super Bowl, that the union had not taken a formal position at that point on the possibility of an expanded playoff field.