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By Mufaddal Anis and Eli Elstein
Every year, each NFL team picks up between seven to ten players in the NFL Draft. Only about five are locks to make the roster. Additionally, each team signs around ten to fifteen undrafted free agents and from that pool, only about 3 are kept. To make room for these newcomers, NFL teams cut veterans who can still play.
The NFL has the country’s best football talent. At this point in time, every football team has at least one starter-caliber player for each position, and many teams have athletes in back-up roles who could start if given the chance. In addition to this, a load of new talent comes into the league every year. If there was ever a time for the league to expand, it’s now.
How Would Divisions Work?
The point of adding 8 total teams is to add 4 teams to each conference. This happens to be the same number as both the number of divisions in each conference and the number of teams in each division. This gives the NFL multiple options.
They could add a team to each division. This would most easily be accomplished by adding one expansion team into every division. I would advise a different route, however. It would be more effective to break up certain divisions where one or more teams don’t seem to fit. The AFC South is the best example, as the Indianapolis Colts, previously in the AFC East, are not southern. Seriously, have you been to indianapolis? It’s COLD! That division has multiple expansion teams in it anyway, which doesn’t do it justice.
Instead, I would suggest moving the Colts back to the AFC East, or better yet, to the AFC North, and reinstating the AFC Central. The Texans can stay in the South, the Jaguars could stay there too if they want. The Titans would do well in the Central. The same thing goes for the NFC South. Dallas should probably end up there, the Falcons or Bucs could easily move to the East, and there would be more teams added to fill in the gaps.
The NFL could also add a brand new division to each conference, probably called the NFC/AFC Central as all other cardinal directions have been taken. This would let each division stay put without any shuffling and keep popular rivalries intact. It might be difficult to get those games televised in primetime windows, however, as the teams would play each other often and would not have large fan-bases to begin with. It would guarantee that at least two of these new teams make it to the Playoffs, which would give them more visibility.
How Would Schedules Work?
The NFL has already shown interest in expanding its regular season beyond the 16 games/17 weeks it has now. They have suggested a 17-game or 18-game schedule where each team gets 2 bye weeks.
The current format has each team play every team in their division twice (6 games total), every team in an in-conference division that rotates through the other 3 (4 games total), every team in a non-conference division that rotates through all 4 others (4 games total), and the two teams in the in-conference divisions that a team is not playing this year who ended in the same place within their division (2 games total). This creates the 16-game schedule.
With each conference having an additional 4-team division, the scheduling would not have to change drastically. Adding in another division in-conference would give teams a 3rd team to play for the same-place, in-conference, non-divisional games. The division rotations would just have one more division in each conference, changing the frequency in which divisions play each other but not affecting total games each season. This would create a 17-game season, and the NFL would most likely add in a second bye week, especially with scheduling issues occurring due to the pandemic this year.
Adding a team to each division would change things slightly more. Each team would have to play 4 teams in their division twice (8 games total), every team in a non-conference division that rotates through all 5 (5 games total), and every team in an in-conference division that rotates through all 4 others (5 games total). This would create an 18-game schedule, and the option would stand to add in another 2 games each year (if the NFL and NFLPA agree) for the two teams in the in-conference divisions that ended in the same place in their division of each team.
Any increase to the number of games in a season would lead to some complications. Obviously adding in a second bye week would be important for player health and safety. It would also shorten the offseason. The season would most likely have to start earlier in the summer (probably just the end of August) so it doesn’t impinge on other sports’ seasons more than usual. This would move training camp, the draft, OTAs, and all pre-draft combines, workouts, and special games to slightly earlier dates.
How Would Playoffs Work?
The current playoff structure is horrible. It doesn’t make any sense. Before the recent changes, the two best teams in the conference were awarded with a bye, and now it’s the best team, but that gives the team such a gigantic advantage. You didn’t have to play the previous week, and then you get to play a team that did play the previous week? It’s completely unfair. Evidence of this: a team without a bye hasn’t advanced to the SuperBowl since the 2012 Baltimore Ravens. In both the scenarios we’re going to outline below, we’re using a 16-team playoff format, and eliminating the bye for 1-seeds NBA style.
So, if the NFL were to add another division to each conference, here’s how the playoff format would work: eight teams from each conference, five division winners, and 3 wildcards. The worst division winner wouldn’t get home-field advantage because that isn’t mathematically possible, but the top four would. Everything else goes normally in terms of how games are seeded played.
In a situation in which another team is just added to each division, it would be easiest to just enter the top two teams of each division into the playoffs. The winners of each division would be seeded 1-4 based on record, and would all get home-field advantage. The second place team in each division would get seeded 5-8 and pit against the 1-4 teams as is normally done. Everything else goes normally in terms of how games are seeded played.