In the spirit of March Madness, I had a crazy idea to write about a hypothetical scenario that has the NFL adopt an NCAA-Tournament format for the NFL playoffs. Now before you freak out, there are no rumors that the league is considering another format change, but I wanted to imagine what the madness would look like.
With that in mind, I provide the main changes you would see, so check it out below.
The transition of seeding the Top-16 NFL Teams and seeing the clash of NFC and AFC teams in the playoffs.
For those who aren't familiar, the current playoff format has three Wild Card teams, awards the top-four seeds to each conference's division winners, and gives the top-seed a bye.
In the past, their format was similar, but the league expanded the number of teams in the playoffs from twelve to fourteen teams in 2020, and now only the top-seed has a bye compared to when both the one and two seeds had one.
This proposed scenario takes it up a notch and now brings in two more teams in the equation and creates a heavier emphasis on the postseason.
(Cowboys fans should be delighted about this proposal since their odds increase of them sneaking into the playoffs, and now you don't have to stress about the team finishing at their usual 9-7. Since the 2020 change, fans have now joked that the expectation is 10-7, but they beat the odds this season and went 12-5.)
Starting off, the two teams that benefit from the change right away could have been the Los Angeles Chargers, who missed the playoffs by the hands of an almost tie result, and the New Orleans Saints, who fell short since the San Francisco 49ers upset the Los Angeles Rams in the regular-season finale this year.
I understand people could say you shouldn't award two extra teams who didn't put in the work to position themselves for the postseason, but extra football would benefit everyone.
If we go based on this season's NFL regular season standings, here's what the first-round matchups would have looked like:
- 1 Green Bay Packers vs 16 Miami Dolphins
- 2 Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs 15 Los Angeles Chargers
- 3 Dallas Cowboys vs 14 Indianapolis Colts
- 4 Kansas City Chiefs vs 13 Pittsburgh Steelers
- 5 Los Angeles Rams vs 12 San Francisco 49ers
- 6 Tennessee Titans vs 11 New England Patriots
- 7 Arizona Cardinals vs 10 Las Vegas Raiders
- 8 Buffalo Bills vs 9 Cincinnati Bengals
The matchups that immediately grab your attention are the Bills-Bengals pairing since it's a hypothetical AFC Championship matchup that happens early, and the NFC West division clash between the Rams and 49ers, which is likely a heavily picked upset by oddsmakers.
Second, the Packers, who are likely to beat the Dolphins, would have to face either the Bills or Bengals in the second round and that could be pitted as a possible Super Bowl matchup from some fan's perspectives.
Lastly, the Dallas Cowboys would be faced with a tough first-round matchup against the Colts and if they were to advance, it would get even harder going up against the Patriots or Titans next.
Now, let's move on to the other changes.
An increase in ratings and an all-out race between teams to obtain top talent.
According to Sportsnaut, this season's NFL playoffs drew some of the highest ratings in the league's history, as the six Wild Card games averaged 30.5 million viewers, the four Divisional games averaged 37.1 million viewers, the two Conference Championship games averaged 49.6 million viewers, and the Super Bowl brought in 112.3 million viewers, which was the 2nd-most in NFL history.
Now, while that sounds great, I see the ratings increasing more in my format since there is a possibility of big-time matchups occurring in the early rounds.
This leads to my next point where you could see more super-teams assembled since I envision a trade-off would happen between the league and the players to shorten the regular season, as any Super Bowl-bound team would now have to play two more games if they approved the format and kept seventeen regular-season games.
With the regular season shortened, teams realize their odds to make the postseason now gets tougher, and to prevent lagging in the standings, they would stack their squads from top-to-bottom to put themselves in a position to win.
If we look at the modern-day NFL, you see that some teams have already gone the route of creating super-teams, but this now creates a bigger battle for teams to trade or sign all of the top talents around the league.
Although this format signifies big changes, things would remain the same for the Cowboys since I would predict they wouldn't try to be as aggressive, and if they had met the Colts in this year's first round, it's most likely a loss for them.
But hey, at least the playoffs now get more exciting, and we could see some March Madness-Esque upsets.