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By Ernie Palladino
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As if NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell doesn’t have enough to worry about with the concussion issue and the aftermath of “Bountygate,” now he’s looking to fiddle with the playoff system.
Seems the good commish is unfazed by any controversy, be it Paul Tagliabue’s reversal of player punishment, Jonathan Vilma’s related defamation suit, or NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith’s demand for a public apology after a shoddy investigation. He’s bound and determined, it seems, to make his league resemble the National Hockey League in everything but the current ice and labor stoppages.
His apparent desire to expand the playoff system from its current 12-team status to 14 or 16 teams is just silly. Then again, this is a commissioner who will seriously consider eliminating kickoffs from the game, as if moving the kickoff point up to the 35-yard line hasn’t cut down on the return game as it is.
But expanding the postseason by two or four teams in a 32-team league? It’s a preposterous idea.
Unfortunately, bless those owners’ hearts, it’s not a new one, either. Ever eager to make a buck, even at the expense of credibility, the subject has been discussed before, though nothing was ever done about it.
Now, though, a handful of teams who just can’t get a handle on this winning thing also want a chance to earn some postseason bucks. And Goodell seems more than willing to get on board.
Expanding to 16 teams would mean half the league would be participating in the postseason. As it is, we already have two wild card teams in each division which, by this typist’s count, is two more than necessary. Call it old-school thinking, but this guy longs for the days when you actually had to win a division to get into the playoffs. And if that meant the Giants never would have had the chance to win the Super Bowl in 2007, then so be it.
Still, the current format is palatable enough. At least it counteracts those rare occurrences where a 2010 mediocrity like 7-9 Seattle gets in because it won the NFC West with a couple of double-digit winners in New Orleans and Green Bay.
That goes out the window in an expanded format. Including half the league, or even adding one more wild card, would eliminate the meaning of the regular season.
Look what it has done in hockey. One of the most worthless exercises in the world is attending a regular season hockey game. Far too many of them lack the intensity of a properly-played game. And for all the excitement of playoff hockey — there are few things as fast-moving and ferocious, including the NFL — one can’t help but wonder whether even half those teams deserve to be playing.
The NFL also had a roster problem to deal with. It’s hard enough keeping the core of a team intact during a 16-game regular season. Expanding would either cause another week to be added to the postseason, or force the No. 2 seed, in expansion to 14, or both Nos. 1 and 2 seeds in expansion to 16, to play a wild-card opponent the first weekend.
In addition to eroding incentive to finish as the cream of the crop, it also increases the risk that the best team, not coincidentally usually the healthiest of the bunch, could lose a key player or two at the start of the playoff process.
Keep in mind, too, that all this expansion talk goes hand-in-hand with the conversation about an 18-game schedule. Just what the league needs, two more games and potentially another week of playoffs. Refer to the injury argument.
Bottom line time: the NFL has better things to think about than handing a bunch of perennial underachievers a chance at undeserved postseason glory.
Are you with Ernie on this one? Where do you stand on playoff expansion? Be heard in the comments…