NFL teams officially voted Tuesday to expand the playoffs by two teams beginning with the 2020 season.
This change brings the total number of teams earning playoff berths in each conference from six to seven. Therefore, 14 of the league's 32 teams will participate in the postseason, which should create December football excitement for more teams than normal.
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Here's a quick look at the important changes being made (via the league's press release):
—Two additional Wild Card teams – one each in the American and National Football Conferences – will qualify for the playoffs. The No. 1 seed in each conference will receive a bye in the Wild Card round. The remaining division champions in each conference with the best records will be seeded 2, 3, and 4, followed by the next three teams per conference with the best records seeded 5, 6, and 7.
—AFC and NFC Wild Card games will feature the 2 seed hosting the 7 seed, the 3 seed hosting the 6 seed and the 4 seed hosting the 5 seed.
—Wild Card Weekend for the 2020 season will consist of three games on Saturday, January 9, and three games on Sunday, January 10, 2021.
These are welcomed changes for the New England Patriots as they attempt to return to the playoffs in their first full season without Tom Brady starting at quarterback since 2001. Brady left the Patriots in free agency to sign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, leaving 2019 fourth-round draft pick Jarrett Stidham as the likely starter for the 2020 season.
The Patriots should still be among the playoff contenders in the AFC without Brady, and the addition of a third wild-card team is definitely helpful in that regard. They have not missed the playoffs since 2008, when Brady suffered a torn ACL in the season opener. A 9-7 record would've been good enough to make the playoffs last season under the new seeding format. The Patriots should be able to go 9-7 with Stidham at the helm.
Winning the AFC East remains very important because it guarantees at least one home playoff game. Earning the No. 1 seed is even more vital because it's now the only position that earns a first-round bye. All six of the Patriots' Super Bowl titles came when they had a playoff bye.