Feb 20, 2020 - Sports

NFL playoffs could expand to 14 teams under new labor agreement

Illustration of a football under construction

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

The NFL and its players' union have informally agreed to restructure the postseason and add a seventh team from each conference for a total of 14, ESPN's Adam Schefter reports.

Why it matters: If finalized as part of the NFL's new collective bargaining agreement, this format change would mark the first playoff expansion since 1990, when the league went from 10 teams to 12.

The structure: The proposal would eliminate the first-round bye for the No. 2 seeds, so the playoff structure would look like this: six wild-card games (up from four), four divisional-round games, two conference championships and the Super Bowl.

Looking back: Here are the teams from the last 10 years that missed the postseason as the No. 7 seed but would have made the playoffs under the proposed format.

  • 2019: Steelers (8-8) and Rams (9-7)
  • 2018: Steelers (9-6-1) and Vikings (8-7-1)
  • 2017: Ravens (9-7) and Lions (9-7)
  • 2016: Titans (9-7) and Buccaneers (9-7)
  • 2015: Jets (10-6) and Falcons (8-8)
  • 2014: Texans (9-7) and Eagles (10-6)
  • 2013: Steelers (8-8) and Cardinals (10-6)
  • 2012: Steelers (8-8) and Bears (10-6)
  • 2011: Titans (9-7) and Bears (8-8)
  • 2010: Chargers (9-7) and Giants (10-6)

The big takeaways: With a 14-team field, the Steelers would have made the playoffs with an 8-8 record three times last decade, and the last two Super Bowl champs (Chiefs and Patriots, both No. 2 seeds) would have had to play an additional game.

  • Six wild-card games (three Saturday, three Sunday) would be wild, with the NFL dominating an entire weekend like college basketball does during March Madness — and college football and the NFL combine to do throughout the fall.

What to watch: The current CBA expires after the 2020 season, which officially begins March 18. If a new agreement is reached before then, this expansion could go into effect immediately.

Go deeper: Increased viewership ups the stakes for the NFL's broadcast rights

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