NFL owners have proposed adding two teams to the playoffs

The changes could take effect this coming season.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell speaks during a media event before Super Bowl LIV. A.J. Mast / The New York Times

The NFL playoffs could expand to include two extra teams as soon as this coming season under a proposed labor agreement now being reviewed by the owners and players.

In the new playoff structure, a seventh team from each conference would qualify for the postseason. Only the top seed from each conference would receive a bye the first weekend of the playoffs; the top two seeds receive byes currently.

On that first weekend, the next six teams in each conference would face each other, as opposed to four teams now. The NFL has played a 16-game schedule since 1978 and has had a 12-team playoff format since 1990.


The new format is just one of many proposals included in the collective bargaining agreement negotiations between the players and owners that would revamp the NFL season. Other proposals include reviewing the structure of training camps; reviewing the number of padded practices during the season; and eliminating one preseason game and adding a 17th regular-season game in its place.

Including two more playoff teams could lead to more fan interest later in the season and to postseason bonuses for a greater number of players. Thanks in part to the bye week they receive, the percentage of No. 1 and No. 2 seeds that make it to the Super Bowl is high. Reducing byes would presumably give more lower-seeded clubs better chances of reaching the championship game.


The NFL’s television partners would also benefit from being able to broadcast two extra postseason games, which are among the most-watched TV programs every year.

While many players may savor the increased odds of qualifying for the postseason, some have said they oppose adding a 17th regular-season game because doing so would raise the risk of injury. The additional game has turned into a major sticking point in negotiations between the NFL and the NFL Players Association, which began about a year ago.

Though the current 10-year labor agreement does not end until March 2021, the owners are pushing for a new agreement before the current league calendar year ends on March 18. Implementing a deal in the middle of a league year is difficult because newly negotiated terms like minimum salaries would have to be prorated.


The owners also want to secure a labor deal as soon as possible so the league can begin negotiations with television networks, whose own rights deals expire in the next couple of years.

About half of the league’s revenue comes from broadcast rights, and the bidding for those rights is expected to be strong. The value of the broadcast rights should increase with new streaming rights and, if the owners have their way, a growing number of regular season and playoff games.

To push the current proposed labor agreement over the finish line, the owners have called a special meeting Thursday in New York, where they will receive an update on the status of talks with the union. On Friday, union representatives from each of the 32 teams will meet via conference call to continue to hash out their differences.


The union’s 11 executive committee members, many of whom were opposed to a 17-game season a few weeks ago, would have to vote to recommend this deal to the 32 team representatives for it to move forward. Those representatives would then have to approve a deal by a two-thirds majority before it could be sent to all NFL players for approval. For a deal to be finalized before the end of the current league year, the 32 team representatives would need to vote on a proposal by next week to have enough time to put the agreement to the full membership for a vote.


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