Making the case against the NFL’s #7 seed

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Associated Press

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster is tackled by Kansas City Chiefs cornerback L’Jarius Sneed during the second half of Sunday’s Super Wild Card playoff game in Kansas City, Missouri. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga)

By Skyler Kisellus, Sports Editor

The National Football League introduced a modified playoff format in 2020 that added an additional spot in each of the two conferences for postseason contention. The lack of success of the seventh-seeded teams from both conferences for the second-straight year may be proving skeptics of the initial move correct.

The Chicago Bears and the Indianapolis Colts were the first teams to take the seven seed in their respective conferences in the first year of the new format. Their first postseason action in the wild card round proved to be their last as both teams were eliminated, going “one-and-done.” The Colts lost a close game to the Buffalo Bills 27-24, while the Bears fell to the New Orleans Saints 21-9 the following day.

The Philadelphia Eagles and the Pittsburgh Steelers met the same feat this past weekend, falling to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs respectively. With the defeats, the past four #7 seeds have been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.

No more bye weeks for #2

One of the largest inconveniences of the new format was the elimination of the first-round bye for the second-seeded team. Instead, the #2 seed now must play the #7 seed in the wild card round to create two additional games from before. Though the games may sound competitive based on the high stakes that come with the playoffs, the final scores suggest otherwise. Three of the four seven-seeded teams lost by at least two scores, with Buffalo being the outlier after a three-point loss in the 2020-21 playoffs.

One indirect result of the changes is a marginally smaller amount of competitiveness amongst teams that are unable to secure the top seed in their conference. Take for example the 2021-22 playoffs that are currently in progress. After the Green Bay Packers secured the #1 seed in the National Football Conference in Week 17, there wasn’t as great of an incentive to compete for other playoff contenders with one game remaining in the regular season. Any team that had already clinched a postseason berth by that time would still be playing in the wild-card round regardless of their efforts.

Risks outweigh benefits

Adding an additional two games to the wild-card round also poses an additional risk of injury for participating players. The last wild-card teams to make it to, let alone win, the Super Bowl were quarterbacked by players named Roethlisberger, Manning, Brady or Rodgers. That being said, the risk of injury posed to key players in games that will more than likely end in elimination just doesn’t seem practical.

The underwhelming performances of the teams that received playoff spots as the seventh-best in conference all but prove that the move was unnecessary and illogical. Based on the shoddy on-field product presented the past two postseasons, the logical choice for the NFL this offseason would be to revert to its previous format of six teams and two first-round byes per conference.

If teams complain that they would lack a crucial opportunity to compete in the postseason without a seventh seed, a simple answer would be “win more games.” If they are unable to do that, they shouldn’t be in the playoffs to begin with.

The original format was more enjoyable as a fan at its previous state. The current format simply takes away an entertainment factor with seventh-seeded teams getting bullied for 60 minutes by conference runner-ups. Simply put, blowouts don’t entertain anyone except the fanbase of the winning team.