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NFL changes could mean more problems

One of the more interesting proposals in the ongoing collective bargaining discussions between the NFL and the NFLPA involves changes to the playoffs: principally, (i) an expanded 17-game season that would remove one of the preseason games; and (ii) expanding the playoffs to include 14 teams with only the number 1 seed getting a bye.

The owners have characterized these changes as a win-win for players, owners and fans alike. Critics, however, point out that there are some issues that would result from these proposed changes. 

More predictable playoff results?

The top seed in each of the eight divisions went to the Super Bowl in all but three seasons since 2002 (when the league instituted the current playoff structure). The last wild card team to win it all was the Green Bay Packers in 2010, and only two other Wild Card teams have made it to the Super Bowl since 2002. It has therefore been suggested that a shift to only the top team getting a bye on Wild Card Weekend would all but guarantee the top seed a Super Bowl appearance; and that this tilting toward the favorite would make the playoffs less exciting and more predictable.

Uneven regular-season number

An uneven number of games means that only half the teams would get nine home games, while the other half would get eight. This would give certain teams a distinct advantage every season, given the obvious home-field advantages. The league could perhaps balance this uneven number by having a game each week outside the U.S. or at a “neutral site” where both teams travel, but teams probably will not like the extra travel.

Longer seasons mean more injuries

The 17-game season would mean that there would be one fewer preseason game. This would be fine with many players, as most starters play only a part of the preseason games, and some do not play at all until the start of the season. Moreover, adding an extra game could put additional pressure on starters early in the season to try and separate their teams from the others in efforts to get that number one spot bye.

However, longer regular seasons means more plays and more players breaking down mentally as well as physically, which can lead to injuries. Regardless of how teams run practices, football is a contact sport, and more contact leads to more injuries. In light of recent retirements of players still in their primes, this longer season could contribute to younger retirements of players.

Is it worth it?

Owners are assuring players that there would be more money, but the question remains whether the changes will be good for the players and competition within the sport.

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