Potential expanded NFL playoffs impact: Jets, Commanders, Saints back in mix

The NFL is still trying to figure out how to proceed after Damar Hamlin’s on-field cardiac arrest resulted in the cancellation of Monday night’s Bills-Bengals game, a matchup between two AFC heavyweights that carries heavy playoff implications.

On Thursday the NFL’s Competition Committee came up with a set of scenarios to account for the game not being played between two of the three contenders for the AFC’s No. 1 playoff seed. Those scenarios, which involve sites and hosting for the AFC Championship, are scheduled to be voted on Friday by the NFL’s 32 teams in a Special League Meeting.

ProFootballTalk discussed a concept of expanding the AFC and NFC playoff fields from seven to eight teams to mitigate the challenge of determining a top seed in the AFC should Bills–Bengals not be played. Adding an eighth playoff team in each conference isn’t something that has been discussed, NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith said during a conference call Thursday, but doing so would require additional bargaining to ensure those eighth team players and the teams that would have received a bye bye being the No. 1 seed were receiving additional compensation.

If the NFL were to expand the playoffs for this season, three teams currently out of playoff contention (the Jets in the AFC, the Commanders and Saints in the NFC) would once again have a shot at the postseason.

Here’s a closer look at how things could shake out.

Current playoff teams

Entering Week 18, there are 11 NFL teams that have already clinched playoff berths under the seven-team postseason format. That would remain the case if the NFL chose to expand the field to eight teams in each conference:

AFC

Clinched division

Clinched playoff berth

NFC

Clinched division

Clinched playoff berth

There are eight more teams in the current postseason format vying for three remaining playoff spots: The Jaguars, Patriots, Dolphins, Steelers and Titans for two AFC spots and the Seahawks, Lions and Packers for one NFC spot.

Newly-eligible teams in 8-team playoff format

If the NFL postseason format was expanded to include eight teams from each conference, three teams that were previously eliminated under the seven-team format would have a chance to earn a playoff berth this weekend:

AFC

NFC

  • Commanders (7-8-1)
  • Saints (7-9)

That would mean there would now be 11 total teams vying for five unclaimed playoff berths: Six AFC teams battling for three spots and five NFC teams batting for two spots.

Chances to earn playoff berth in 8-team format

Below are the chances for each of those 11 teams to earn a playoff berth in an expanded, eight-team postseason format. The odds are over The Athletic‘s betting model, created by Austin Mock.

Odds to earn AFC playoff berth under 8-team format

Odds to earn NFC playoff berth under 8-team format

(Photo: Ken Blaze / USA Today)

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