This weekend’s Wild Card games were nearly unwatchable. Fortunately, we know how to fix the NFL playoffs’ opening weekend.
For neutral observers of NFL Super Wild Card Weekend, this year’s slate was anything but super.
Of the six first-round playoff games, only two of them were decided by single digits. The other four were snoozefests that were done by halftime, signaling what was painfully obvious: The NFL postseason as currently constructed is diluted and dull.
Luckily at Boardroom, we’re here to offer the NFL free advice on how to improve things. Here are three possible solutions.
1. Go Back to the Old System
Remember when there were 12 playoff teams and two byes in each conference?
That was only two years ago, and the simplest solution is to go back to it. Of course, this will never happen because the NFL prioritizes money above all else, but that we’re even mentioning this means there’s an issue to be solved.
The 7 seeds in each conference the last two seasons haven’t been worthy of the postseason. This season, the 9-8 Philadelphia Eagles never stood a chance against the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, while the 9-7-1 Pittsburgh Steelers took a brief lead on the Kansas City Chiefs before being blown out of the water by halftime.
Last season was at least a little better, with the 7th-seeded Indianapolis Colts nearly upsetting the Buffalo Bills. But the first-ever Nickelodeon game featuring the New Orleans Saints against the Mitchell Trubisky-led Chicago Bears was a 21-9 outcome that wasn’t even that close.
Ratings for all these games would be amazing and the league will claim that the weekend was a huge success. Those who watched may disagree, and the easiest solution is taking these 7 seeds out of the playoffs because they don’t belong.
2. Give Us Play-in Games
Since the NFL seems dead-set on 14 playoff teams, why not take a page from the NBA and MLB and institute play-in games?
The MLB Wild Card single-elimination games are incredibly entertaining and ensure teams are battle tested before squaring off against the game’s best teams. The NBA play-in tournament has been extremely compelling as well. Let’s pit the 6th and 7th seeds from each conference against each other for the right to make the Wild Card round. The ratings, as Gwen Stefani would say, would be b-a-n-a-n-a-s.
The major issue with this plan is that it would add time to the season, which could be solved by starting the regular season a week earlier and eliminating a preseason week or eliminating the week between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl. Having a Sunday of two play-in games as an appetizer for the postseason while avoiding Super Wild Card weekend blowouts would be ideal.
(As an aside, in a world where I was NFL commissioner, the league would have soccer-style promotion and relegation in conjunction with the XFL and USFL in five years, and this play-in weekend would also feature a relegation playoff game between the two worst teams. The winner stays in the league and gets the first pick in the draft, while the loser is out of the NFL. It would’ve been the most exciting Jaguars-Lions game ever, and you would’ve watched the crap out of it.)
3. Eliminate Conferences for the Playoffs
Was it cool to have divisional matchups this past weekend? Sure. But once the games actually started, Buffalo-New England and L.A. Rams-Arizona were both stinkers.
In most seasons, eliminating conferences for the playoffs and advancing the teams with the 14 best records would eliminate those sub-.500 or .500 teams that sometimes sneak in. The biggest flaw with this plan is the new 17-game schedule, which gives one conference each year an extra home game. One year, each conference would just be at an advantage. That’s life sometimes.
But you would’ve had more interesting and compelling matchups. I have no clue who would’ve gotten the 14th and final spot among Philadelphia, Indianapolis, New Orleans, Miami and the L.A. Chargers, but any of them probably would’ve played a better matchup against 3rd-seeded Tennessee in this scenario than the Eagles did against the Bucs.
We still would’ve gotten Chiefs-Steelers, which is unfortunate, but we also would’ve still gotten Dallas-San Francisco. Rams-Patriots would’ve brought back some fun Super Bowl memories, Bills-Raiders may not have been the best, but an Arizona-Cincinnati matchup between Kyler Murray and Joe Burrow would’ve made for must-see TV.
None of these solutions is perfect, but they’d at least be a welcome change from this past weekend in the NFL, where a majority of the games were just flat out unwatchable.