NFL Still Has Unfinished Business

March did not go out like a lamb in the NFL — for on Tuesday, the owners formally voted to expand the playoff field from 12 teams (six in each conference) to 14 (seven in each conference) effective immediately.

(Of course this had been agreed to in principle when the owners presented the union with the new collective bargaining agreement to vote on — which the union only narrowly approved. Concomitantly, the owners rectified a long-standing inequity by awarding the same postseason share to the teams earning a first-round bye as the teams playing wild card games have always received — meaning that a team who had a bye will no longer earn less playoff money than a team who advanced to the same round of the playoffs and had played a wild card game does).

But this is no time for self-congratulation on the owners' part.

For the second year in a row, 2019 saw a team eliminated from the playoffs with an overtime loss in which their offense never had a possession, when the Saints lost to the Vikings 26-20 in an NFC wild card game after Minnesota won the hallowed coin toss to start the overtime. The year before that, the Chiefs lost to the Patriots 37-31 in the AFC championship game without getting an opportunity on offense because New England won the coin toss.

This needs to be the number one issue when the owners finally meet on May 19-20 in Marina Del Rey, California. Ideally, if the first team to take possession in overtime scores a touchdown, they could choose to kick the PAT or go for two; if they miss, the second team could win the game if they score a touchdown and convert. After both teams have had the ball once (providing that the score is still tied), play proceeds as it does currently: First team to score anything wins (or any safety wins regardless of when scored).

But whatever they do, please, don't do what college football does. It's far too easy for teams to score, and it wreaks havoc with the statistics, both offensive and defensive.

Other issues that need to be settled include what form the 17th game will take. Considering how fairness-obsessed the league has been for decades, this game is virtually certain to be an interconference game, with the AFC teams getting all of the "17th games" at home one year and the NFC teams getting all of them at home the following year; that way, all teams competing for division titles, playoff spots, and playoff seeds will have played the same number of home games.

And considering how parity-obsessed the league has been for at least as long, the 17th games are likely to be apportioned on the basis of the previous season's standings, with first-place teams playing each other, second-place teams playing each other, third-place teams playing each other, and fourth-place teams playing each other, with the divisional matchups of these games being the same as the ones that pertained when the entire corresponding divisions played each other two years prior (and will again two years hence).

In 2021, this would mean that whoever finished first in the AFC East in 2020 would play whoever finished first in the NFC East in 2020, whoever finished second in the AFC East would play whoever finished second in the NFC East in 2020, and so on (since these entire divisions played each other in 2019, and will again in 2023), with the other divisions similarly paired. This means that two teams not from the same conference could conceivably play each other every other year, just as two teams in different divisions of the same conference can conceivably play each other every year.

Finally, there is the issue of a second bye week for each team — which the owners essentially guaranteed that they would give the players in return for extending the schedule. Furthermore, one of the key reasons the owners wanted to lengthen the regular season all along is to push back the Super Bowl two weeks, to the Sunday within the Presidents' Day weekend — thus making "Super Bowl Monday" a de-facto federal holiday.

Some owners want to give every team a bye the week before the first week of the regular season, in addition to the bye week each team gets during the season — but if both bye weeks are given to each team during the season, every team that plays a Thursday game can be given an automatic bye the week before, the three days' rest before the Thursday games being cited as a major sore point by many players.

All of this should keep the owners mighty busy during the two days over which the meeting is scheduled.

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