If the 2020 NFL season does eventually kick-off, there will be a new wrinkle for teams to consider.
Via teleconference Tuesday, the NFL owners voted to expand the playoffs to seven teams per conference, the league announced in a statement. Only one team will get a first-round bye in each conference. The expanded playoffs will begin this season.
The format will remain the same, just with an extra game per conference on Wild Card Weekend. With the No. 2 seed hosting the No. 7 seed, No. 3 hosting the No. 6 and No. 4 hosting No. 5.
NFL wild-card weekend for this season will include three games Saturday, Jan. 9, and another three games Sunday, Jan. 10.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) March 31, 2020
Same format, just with one bye in each conference: The other three division winners each host a wild-card game.
Had this rule change been in effect last season, the Los Angeles Rams (9-7) would have been the No. 7 seed in the NFC and would have faced the Green Bay Packers in the wild-card round, while the 8-8 Pittsburgh Steelers would have traveled to face the eventual Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs.
While some might see this as a way to reward mediocrity, NFL Media's Ian Rapoport shows this is not the case.
— This likely makes regular season games more important for all, with top teams fighting for the one by per conference.
— Had this been adopted in 1990, just 1.6% of teams would have had a losing record. A bunch more 10-win teams would’ve gotten in. https://t.co/mspFzj7zXL— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 31, 2020
While the 49ers wouldn't have needed the expanded field in 2019, it could have helped Jon Gruden's Raiders. The Silver and Black sat at 6-4 after Week 11 and looked primed to make a playoff push. But consecutive losses to the New York Jets, Chiefs, Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars put them behind the eight-ball. They entered Week 17 needing a win and losses by the Titans and Steelers, among other things, to claim the No. 6 seed.
Had this new rule been in place, the Raiders only would have needed to win and have one of those teams lose to claim the No. 7 seed. The Raiders, of course, lost to Drew Lock and the Denver Broncos in Week 17, but only after Gruden elected to go for a 2-point conversion to win the game after the Titans had knocked the Raiders out of playoff contention with a win over the Houston Texans.
The sports world currently is on pause due to the coronavirus pandemic and many of the leading minds in epidemiology believe the fall will see a spike in cases, which could threaten the NFL season or at least see it pushed back.
Whenever football does return, there will an extra playoff carrot for all the rabbits to chase.