By Brad Kallet, WFAN.com
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If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Because I don’t have the power or connections to do so, can somebody please forward that overused, tired cliché over to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for me?
No, I’m not talking about the cold-weather Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium on February 2. I’m not talking about questionable officiating or new rules to enhance player safety.
I’m talking about playoffs.
Earlier this month, Goodell said that adding two more wild-card teams to the postseason is under “serious consideration.”
What a horrible, horrible decision this would be.
Simply put, the NFL playoffs are perfect the way they are. The last three weeks of football leading up to Super Bowl XLVIII were riveting, but aren’t they always this time of year? As it currently stands, 12 out of 32 teams qualify for the postseason — six from the AFC and six from the NFC. The four division winners and two wild-card teams from each conference make up the field.
Two additional wild-card teams, bringing the total to 14, would be too many.
I fully understand that from a business standpoint, adding teams makes sense. The National Football League is the most successful sports league in the country — and it isn’t close — and its popularity is only growing. Two more teams means two more games, which means more tickets sold (and hot dogs, jerseys, etc.), more money in television rights and even more fan interest. It means more revenue and greater profit — plain and simple.
But expanding the playoff field would be a classic case of selling out. It would dilute the all-important regular season, in which only the best teams (with some exceptions) get into the final tournament. As is the case in the MLB playoffs, anything can happen — and any team can win — in the NFL playoffs because so few teams get in. Do we really want 8-8 and 7-9 teams to consistently be rewarded for average and mediocre seasons? Because that’s what will happen on a yearly basis with expansion.
If the field had been expanded this season, the Steelers in the AFC and the Cardinals in the NFC would have made the playoffs. Pittsburgh, at 8-8, was not deserving of a berth. The Cardinals, on the other hand, had the same record as the No. 3-seeded Eagles and a better record than the No. 4-seeded Packers (8-7-1).
Could you make the argument that Arizona should have been playing in January? Of course. But that’s sports. You need a little heartbreak here and there — you’re lying if you say you don’t take some enjoyment in the misery of other teams’ fans — and the injustice of a 10-6 team missing the playoffs doesn’t measure up to the injustice of two or three 8-8 teams getting the chance to take home the Lombardi Trophy.
Ten of 30 (33.3 percent) teams make the playoffs in MLB and 37.5 percent make it in the NFL. A ridiculous 53.3 (16 of 30) percent of teams make it in both the NBA and NHL. More than half the league! The NBA and NHL regular seasons are all about playing for seeding — which is terribly uninteresting — and the only teams that miss the postseason are the very, very bad ones. We don’t want the NFL to trend in this direction.
And what about protecting the players? Is that initiative just conveniently ignored when an opportunity to generate more revenue arises? Players have gone on record as saying that Thursday night games are especially difficult on their bodies, but you can rest assured that Thursday Night Football isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. An 18-game schedule, which is almost beyond comprehension, has been discussed for years now.
And now this? Sure, two more wild-card teams just means two more games. But then two becomes four, and by 2020 we’ll have 16 teams in the postseason. Complete hypocrisy. As Charlie Sheen brilliantly told Howard Stern in 2011, “it’s silly on its best day.”
But getting back to my original point, the NFL playoffs are structured masterfully. The best of the best get in, the matchups are always enticing, the schedule is spaced out beautifully and the tournament doesn’t run too long. The playoffs are a smash hit year in and year out, like clockwork, and that can’t be said for the other major American professional sports leagues.
Adding playoff teams threatens all that is great about the climax and conclusion of the five-month football season. Don’t unnecessarily alter something that doesn’t need to be altered.
Don’t mess with what works.
Let it be, Roger.
Brad Kallet is an editor and columnist for CBSNewYork.com. He has written for TENNIS.com, MLB.com and SMASH Magazine, among others. You can follow him on Twitter @brad_kallet.
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