NFL owners to vote on COVID-19 plan that would expand playoffs to 16 teams

The NFL isn’t resting on its laurels when it comes to COVID-19. Even though there hasn’t been another team-wide outbreak like the Tennessee Titans had earlier in the season, the league wants to be prepared in case it happens again — and in case it affects the upcoming playoffs.

NFL team owners will vote Tuesday to approve a COVID-19 contingency playoff plan that would be enacted only if a meaningful game is canceled. The plan throws out the current format, replaces it with a seeded bracket, and expands the total number of playoff teams.

What’s the plan?

If a team can’t play all of its regular-season games, the plan is to expand the number of teams that make the playoffs from each conference from seven to eight, which allows for a seeded bracket to replace the traditional format. Each division winner will make the playoffs, and four additional teams with the best record in their respective conferences will also make playoffs. (Ties will be broken using at least 10 different metrics, including head-to-head record, conference winning percentage and strength of schedule.)

Once the playoff teams are decided, winning the division ceases to matter. Each conference will seed their teams by winning percentage. Then, instead of the normal wild-card round (and a first-round bye for the top team), all eight teams will play each other using a bracket format. The first ranked team will play the eighth ranked team, the second team will play the seventh, and so on.

That format will continue in the second round, with the highest seeded team playing the lowest seeded team and the two remaining teams playing each other. The two highest seeded winning teams from each conference will host the divisional games.

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