With a new CBA comes the opportunity for the NFL to change the way the season operates, and according to Schefter the new CBA will mean more playoff teams and fewer byes.
Whether or not this is good from an entertainment perspective is up for debate, but from a competitive standpoint the pros and cons are very clear.
Obviously this most benefits those teams who are borderline to make the playoffs. Had this format been used in 2019, the 8-8 Steelers and 9-7 Rams would have made the playoffs.
On the other hand, this hurts the top teams who are competing for those first round byes. In 2019 the 13-3 Packers and the 12-4 eventual Super Bowl Champions Chiefs would have had to play on wildcard weekend.
Given that the Chiefs now have the best quarterback in the NFL, and will for the foreseeable future, they are far more likely to be that 2 seed who now has to play an extra playoff game than the 7th seed who would have otherwise made the playoffs.
The single elimination playoffs are far more random than the 16-game regular season, meaning that more playoff teams leads to lower odds of the top teams winning. If there were no playoffs the 14-2 Ravens would have gone to the Super Bowl.
The one upside for the Chiefs is that it provides more of a buffer if Mahomes misses part of the season due to injury. Imagine a scenario where Mahomes had missed 8 games after his knee injury instead of 2, and the Chargers were as good as they were in 2018. That extra wildcard game could allow the Chiefs to sneak into the playoffs, then ride Mahomes to a playoff run.
More broadly speaking, more games and more playoff games reduces the important of an individual regular season game. This is especially true for teams like the 2019 Chiefs, who were way ahead in their division but also way behind the top seed. Those last games wouldn’t have mattered had the 2nd seed not gotten a bye.
Overall while I’m fine with a 17 game schedule (although only if there’s a 2nd bye week), but I don’t like expanding the playoff field. I’ve always felt that 6 teams making it out of 16 was a good number. You should have to be among the best in your conference to make the playoffs, and 7 out of 16 is to close to half for my taste.