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NFL playoff teams increased by two to create 14-team playoff pool beginning in 2020 season

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell speaks to the media

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell speaks to the media during the owners meetings on May 22, 2019, in Key Biscayne, Fla. Credit: AP/Brynn Anderson

If you can’t get enough playoff football, the NFL has some good news.

League owners on Tuesday agreed to add two playoff teams, bringing the total number to 14. That means there will be an additional game on Wild-Card Weekend, which translates to three games per conference in the first round.

It also means there will only be one team per conference that earns a bye weekend to begin the playoffs, down from the current two. Previously, the two divisional winners with the best records in each conference received byes; now, only the team with the best record in each conference gets a week off to begin the playoffs.

Wild-Card Weekend would feature three games on Saturday and three more on Sunday. In each conference, the No. 2 seed will host the No. 7 seed, the No. 3 seed will host the No. 6 seed, and the No. 4 seed will host the No. 5 seed. The start times for each game are 1 p.m., 4:40 p.m. and 8:15 p.m.

According to Brian Rolapp, the NFL’s chief media and business officer who runs NFL Network, CBS and NBC would televise the added playoff games. CBS will also air a playoff production on the Nickelodeon channel, which is geared toward children. NBC will air the 8:15 p.m. on Sunday. That game will also be televised by Telemundo, making it the first time in NFL history that a Spanish language network is airing a playoff game.

Even before the NFL’s newly ratified collective bargaining agreement was narrowly approved by the players March 15, the NFL had the power to increase the playoff pool. But the CBA does mean that the league will soon be adding a regular- season game — making it 17 — as soon as the 2021 season.

The addition of two playoff teams may lead to teams qualifying for the postseason with losing records, but history shows that rarely has been the case. According to NFL research, if the playoffs had been expanded from 12 to 14 teams since the 1990 season, only one team — the 7-9 Cowboys in 1990 — would have gotten in as a wild-card team with a losing record. The Giants won the NFC East — and the Super Bowl — that season.

Only one sub-.500 team — the 7-9 Seahawks in 2010 — have qualified for the playoffs in a non-strike year. The Seahawks won the NFC West that year, and also won a first-round playoff game over the Saints.

If the league had a 14-team tournament since 1990, 44 of the additional 60 teams that would have qualified had winning records. Fifteen would have made it with a .500 record, and only the 1990 Cowboys would have made it with a losing record.

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