The NFL and the NFLPA are hard at work negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement, and an expanded schedule is one of the top items on the docket. We've previously discussed how a 17-game schedule checks a lot of boxes toward the league's goals, and on Wednesday night Adam Schefter reported the league is considering a scheduling expansion of a different kind: 14 playoff teams.
Presently, the league sends six teams per conference to the playoffs, with the top two earning first-round byes. Under the new format, which could be in place for the 2020 season, seven teams from each conference would reach the field where only the No. 1 seed gets to skip the Wild Card round.
If applied to the 2019 season, the playoff field would look like this:
(7) Pittsburgh Steelers at (2) Kansas City Chiefs
(6) Tennessee Titans at (3) New England Patriots
(5) Buffalo Bills at (4) Houston Texans
BYE: (1) Baltimore Ravens
(7) Los Angeles Rams at (2) Green Bay Packers
(6) Minnesota Vikings at (3) New Orleans Saints
(5) Seattle Seahawks at (4) Philadelphia Eagles
BYE: (1) San Francisco 49ers
Expanding the playoffs could make Week 17 -- err, Week 18 -- more competitive as teams jockey for the all-important first-round bye.... while also increasing the league's revenue by providing more TV inventory to sell.
And that's where this concept gets interesting from a college football perspective: when are they going to play these games?
In a normal year, college football's title game falls the Monday night after the NFL's Wild Card Weekend. (This year was a bit different due to a confluence of scheduling issues, pushing the title game back a week.) For the upcoming season, Week 17 will be played Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021, Wild Card Weekend falls on Jan. 9-10, and the CFP title game is Monday, Jan. 11.
Typically, this is not a problem. The four Wild Card games are played Saturday evening (4:30 ET), Saturday night (8:15), Sunday afternoon (1) and Sunday evening (4:30). But it's not clear where the two extra games will go.
If we take it for granted that the NFL will not compete with itself by staging playoff games on top of each other, the two extra Wild Card games will go.... where? NBC's Sunday Night Football package has been TV's highest-rated show ever since it was created 15-ish years ago, so we can easily turn the Sunday double-header into a triple-header.
But what about the other game? Sure, the NFL could easily slide it into the Saturday afternoon time slot and truly own the entire weekend with wall-to-wall football, and perhaps that's what they'll do.
Or, maybe they'll whip out their textbook NFL shrewdness and play that extra Wild Card game at a time it's trained audiences to watch NFL football -- Thursday night... or Monday night.
Perhaps I'm being paranoid. Biting the hand that provides the NFL's free meal by directly competing against the CFP title game would be a jerk move to the extreme, even by the NFL's standards. Then again, this is the NFL we're talking about, an entity that would sell the clothes off their own mothers' back if they saw profit in it.
Once the news broke Tuesday night, Mike Florio tweeted the following:
If and when that happens, the NFL would have to push Wild Card weekend beyond the bounds of Saturday and Sunday, lest it stage games at 9 a.m. ET/6 a.m. PT.
Again, maybe you read this and think I'm being paranoid. And maybe I am. But how can you be sure the NFL isn't out to get college football?