The Expanded Playoffs Haven't Been Good for NFL Fans

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The NFL regular season concluded last week and we saw the first round of playoff games over the weekend.  It's a football fan's dream.  Primetime games in almost every time slot of the weekend.  And while the anticipation has been building up all season long for this moment, the football we saw over the weekend didn't quite live up to the expectations.  While there are a few reasons for this (refs, we're looking at you), I have to call it like I see it.  The playoffs being expanded to 14 teams has led to much poorer quality games in round one.

The Pittsburgh Steelers saw the miraculous scenario they needed to make the playoffs come true in Week 18 and fans rejoiced.  However, this team played lackluster football all season long, and yet they were still able to sneak their way into the last playoff spot in the AFC.  

Going into this week's game against the Kansas City Chiefs, they were one of the largest underdogs the league had ever seen in the postseason.  These should all have been warning signs of what we saw play out Sunday night.  

The 42-21 final score is a little misleading, if that's even possible.  The Steelers were in way over their heads and that showed on the field.  All week long, people were talking themselves into thinking the Steelers could compete much better than they did three weeks ago against the same Chiefs in a 36-10 loss.  Admittedly, I was one of those people.  But the truth of the matter is that when you pit a seventh seed team with a 9-7-1 record against the second best team in the conference, this outcome is going to happen more often than not.

Look no further than our in-state rival, the Philadelphia Eagles.  Earlier in the day Sunday they were the seventh seed going up against the defending Super Bowl champions, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  This game was another example of one team looking far superior than their opponent, with the Bucs drubbing the Eagles 31-15.  The Steelers and Eagles were two teams that were in a much different tier in the NFL than their opponents this weekend and it clearly showed.  Frankly, they both looked like they didn't even belong on the field.

So if you include the Buffalo Bills destroying the New England Patriots (you love to see it) and the Los Angeles Rams convincingly beating the Arizona Cardinals with these two games, you're looking at an overwhelming majority of the games being lousy.  Four out of six games that were extremely uninteresting.  The Las Vegas Raiders vs. Cincinnati Bengals and San Francisco 49ers vs. Dallas Cowboys both coming down to the last possession saved the NFL from what could have been a horrific weekend product.  As I mentioned earlier, there was some suspect officiating in a lot of these games but this boils down to the NFL forcing extra teams in the playoffs that are proving they don't belong.

Some would argue that this current format benefits the two teams that won their conference having a first-round bye, which has some validity to it.  But even coaches are wary of such, concerned about what the layoff might do for their team.  Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur played his starters a good portion of their Week 18 game against the Detroit Lions, to the dismay of many.  The game was meaningless, with Green Bay already securing the number one seed in the NFC.  But LaFleur didn't want his players to sit out for two whole weeks while other teams were continuing to play and staying fresh.

In total, it seems like there is little benefit for adding the seventh seeds to the playoffs.  The product we're seeing is inferior to what we expect from teams that fight all season long to play in the postseason.  If anything, the only good to come from it is more games to bet on.  Other than that, we're seeing teams outclassed by the top teams in the league in games that are barely garnering our attention.  If the NFL was smart, they'd go back to the 12-team format.  At least then we would be assured of seeing competitive games all weekend long between teams that actually deserve to be there. 

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