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In this week's episode, we discussed the recent story that the NFL is considering expanding its playoff format to include 7 or 8 teams per conference. During that discussion, I had the following comment:

“If you add a 7th seed to the NFL Playoffs you will probably get an 8-8 team in there every 3 years and probably a 7-9 team every 5 to 7 years. Every 10 to 15 years you might even get a 6-10 team in there. Who wants that?”


In the days since that episode, I have begun to think about that statement. Is that accurate? Since accuracy with statistics is important to us here at Green and Gold Forever and I can’t possibly turn myself away from an NFL statistical research project, I went and looked up the historical data.


Using the correct tiebreakers for each era, I determined who would have been the 7th and 8th seeded teams in each conference for every playoff year since 1990. Are my concerns correct? Would the NFL playoffs be taken over by mediocre teams? Would horrible teams go to the postseason with shocking regularity?



Below is a chart that shows the number of times a team of a certain number of wins would have appeared in a 14-team playoff format over the past 22 seasons. I sorted them by conference and then combined them to form a league total.




As you can see by the chart, my predictions were hit and miss.


According to the recent historical data, if a 7th team was added to each conference’s playoffs, a 6-10 team would likely make it less often than every 20 years instead of once every 10-15 years. In fact, no 6-10 team since 1990 has finished as high as 7th.  A 7-9 team would only make it about once every 20 years; not every 5-7 years. It seems that I overstated how often horrible teams would reach the postseason. The data shows that the majority of 7th seeded teams would have a 9-7 record, with the rare 10-6 team every 4-5 years.


My claim about the number of 8-8 teams making the playoffs was actually understated. The data shows that an 8-8 team would make the playoffs slightly more often than once every two seasons. While that sounds high, the current NFL playoff format has had a team that was .500 or worse advance to the playoffs 9 times since 1990, which is roughly the same rate that history shows it would occur with a 14-team playoff format.  So it appears that a 7th playoff team would not create an environment where bad teams would make the playoffs every year.



The same certainly cannot be said about a 16-team format with 8 teams from each conference. Here is the same chart as before, but with the hypothetical 8th seeded teams since 1990.





Look at that mess! According to the historical data, an 8-8 team would be all but guaranteed to make the playoffs EVERY YEAR with a 16-team format. Worse yet, a 7-9 team would make the playoffs about once every 4 years! The data also suggests that a 6-10 team could make it every 10 years or so, however, both of the 6-10 teams that would have qualified in a hypothetical 16-team playoff were in the early 90s. A team that bad has not gotten that close to the postseason in 20 years.

The thing that strikes me about this chart is that of the 44 teams that would have been 8 seeds, only 13 had winning records. It just goes to show that if you are the 8th best team in your conference, there is a reason you didn’t make the playoffs. You didn't deserve to.



This quick study was to fact check my statement from Monday and to give myself a frame of reference for what 14-team and 16-team playoffs would look like. While the 14-team playoff format doesn’t look like it would be as bad as I feared, I still think it’s a poor idea. From the oversaturation of the product to having to watch bad teams annually battle for the games richest prize, there are plenty of good reasons not to expand the playoffs. Besides, what is being lost? Sure, the rare 10-6 team might get screwed, but I’m willing to accept that to avoid having an 8-8 Super Bowl winner. And with 7 of the last 10 Super Bowls featuring a team that played on Wildcard weekend, you know it would happen sooner or later.


As far as the 16-team format goes, that really could cause some serious damage to the meaning of the regular season and would cheapen the playoffs. It’s a horrible, horrible, horrible idea. Unless you thought that Vinny Testaverde’s 1990 Buccaneers were championship material and deserved the right to prove it!


Lastly, just for kicks, here is the complete list of the teams that would have made the playoffs as #7 and #8 seeds since 1990. Notice that had there been a 14-team format, the Packers would’ve made the playoffs 18 of the last 20 years. Wow…I take it all back!! Let everyone in the playoffs!! GO PACK GO!!!




Eric Drews 
Green and Gold Forever 

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