The National Football League’s competition committee is moving to proactively adjust for scheduling problems caused by the global pandemic, proposing an expanded playoff field of 16 teams.
The committee’s contingency plan, according to sources in reporting by ESPN’s Chris Mortensen, would go to the NFL owners to consider.
With coronavirus cases on the rise, and several bye weeks already having been shifted, the league has seen its window beginning to close. The 16-team playoff scenario, a last resort plan, would be instituted only if games are canceled and unable to be rescheduled.
The contingency plan would feature eight playoff teams from each conference instead of seven; the No. 1 overall seed in each conference would no longer receive a first-round bye.
The four division winners would earn the top four seeds in each conference, followed by four wild-card teams. No. 1 would play No. 8, No. 2 would play No. 7, No. 3 would play No. 6 and No. 4 would play No. 5 in the first round.
An earlier option already in discussion is to add an 18th week to the regular season and move the Super Bowl from its scheduled Feb. 7 date. If the contingency plan were to be put into play, the NFL would begin the postseason with half its 32 teams earning a playoff berth.
The league’s owners voted in March to move from 12 playoff teams to 14 prior to the 2020 season—a decision not related to COVID-19—marking the first expansion in three decades. The number of playoff teams grew from 10 to 12 beginning with the 1990 season.
The 30-team NBA has 16 playoff teams, the 31-team NHL features 16 playoff teams, while MLB has only 10 playoff spots open for its 30 teams.