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Report: NFL considering expanded playoff as COVID-19 contingency

Jason Owens
·2-min read

The NFL is considering further expanding its playoffs this season if the COVID-19 pandemic forces significant changes to the regular-season schedule, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reports.

According to the report, the NFL competition committee is preparing a contingency plan to present to team owners to expand the playoffs to 16 teams — eight in each conference. The proposal is being prepared in the case that games continue to be lost amid the pandemic as teams move past bye weeks in their schedules.

The competition committee is made of up NFL team owners, front-office members and head coaches. Denver Broncos general manager John Elway, Washington head coach Ron Rivera and New York Giants owner John Mara are among the members of the committee.

What would expanded playoffs look like?

The reported contingency format would take four division winners and four wild-card teams from each conference. The expanded playoff would eliminate the first-round bye for No. 1 seeds, which would take on the No. 8 seeds in their respective conferences under the reported proposal.

The NFL is already slated to implement a new playoff format this season, expanded from six teams in each conference to seven. The traditional first-round byes for No. 2 seeds are already off the table.

A spectator wears a face mask to protect against COVID-19 during the second half of an NFL football game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020, in Baltimore. The Steelers won 28-24. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Will the pandemic prompt the NFL to further expand the postseason? (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

COVID-19 compelled expanded MLB postseason

The proposal mirrors one implemented this season in MLB, which expanded its playoff from 12 teams to 16 amid its COVID-19-shortened season. MLB saw a more significant impact to its regular season than is anticipated in the NFL, with schedules reduced from 162 games to 60 games for each team.

The reported NFL proposal is likely a last-case scenario for the NFL as the league is jumping through logistical hoops to ensure that each team plays a full 16-game slate. Outbreaks among teams starting after Week 3 have forced several changes to the NFL schedule.

The NFL has already declared that it’s willing to add an 18th week to the regular season and move the Super Bowl from its scheduled Feb. 7 date to accommodate schedule changes forced by COVID-19.

With COVID-19 spiking across the country and forecasts predicting continued growth of the pandemic as winter approaches, the NFL is planning for more outbreaks among teams.

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