The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has already forced the NFL to adjust on the fly, but after nine weeks of figuring things out as it goes, the league has decided to plan ahead for the unexpected.
NFL owners unanimously approved a contingency plan to expand the playoff field from 14 to 16 teams if meaningful games cannot be played due to COVID-19, NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reported. In the event the league is forced to take such action, it will not re-seed teams, according to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
This proposed scenario would only become a reality if the league cannot first complete the meaningful games rescheduled in a possible Week 18. Essentially, playoff expansion will only come about as a third option in the event the league cannot complete the 256-game season as scheduled within 17 weeks or within 18 weeks, with the 18th week added solely to complete the 256-game schedule prior to postseason play.
The NFL had already expanded the playoffs from 12 to 14 teams in the offseason prior to the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, adding a third wild card spot to each conference's postseason tournament. It will add another in the event the pandemic significantly alters its ability to complete important games under the existing schedule, or within an 18-week schedule.
As of now, the playoffs stand as a 14-team, single-elimination tournament, with seven teams participating in each conference and the top seed from each conference earning a bye on Wild Card Weekend.
Owners also approved a resolution that will award NFL teams compensatory third-round picks if clubs lose minority coaches and/or front office executives to head coaching or general manager jobs elsewhere, Pelissero reported. The approved resolution is subject to NFL Players' Association approval, Goodell said.