A couple of weeks ago, the NFL and its Players Association reached agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement that contained a pair of fundamental changes to the NFL as we’ve known it for the past two decades.
The first was the oft-discussed increase in the regular season schedule from 16 to 17 games. That change does not take effect until at least the 2021 season.
The more immediate change is the expansion of the playoffs to include an additional Wild Card team from each conference which means the playoffs will increase from a field of 12 to 14 teams.
In addition to the four Division winners in each conference there will now be three rather than two Wild Cards. Wild Card Weekend will expand from two games each on Saturday and Sunday to a tripleheader on each day. Only the top seeds in each conference will have Byes into the following week’s Divisional round. The second seed in each conference which previously had a Bye for the opening weekend will now host the number seven seed (the third Wild Card).
Had this been implemented in 2019, in addition to the four Wild Games that were actually played, the NFC ‘s second seed Green Bay would have hosted the seventh-seeded LA Rams and the AFC’s second seed Kansas City would have hosted seventh-seeded Pittsburgh. Only San Francisco and Baltimore would have had Wild Card Weekend byes.
The expansion of the regular season has met with mixed reviews. There has been some criticism about the need for an extra game in light of commissioner Roger Goodell’s long repeated concern for player safety.
From a structural perspective, a 17-game schedule would cause an imbalance between home and road game. That concern seems to have been minimized by alternating seasons in which all teams within a conference will have an additional home or road game.
Another possibility is that the extra game will be a neutral site game. This seems to be the fairest approach. For many years the NFL has played regular season games in London or Mexico City which have taken a home game away from one of those teams. By having 16 neutral site games there would be a league-wide balance of eight home and eight road games per team.
A canvassing of some local Las Vegas bookmakers sees unanimous approval of playoffs expansion. The universal comments were along the lines of “the more games the better it is for our books and the industry in general, especially when it comes to playoff games.”
With the addition of two more playoff teams there will be significant implications on the betting boards.
The two greatest impacts will be in the odds to win the AFC or NFC titles and in the increasingly popular futures wager involving each team’s odds to make or miss the playoffs.
Chuck Esposito, Sportsbook director at Sunset Station, noted: “It should add much more intriguing and meaningful games during weeks 16 and 17. Far too many times in the past, especially Week 17, was more like a preseason week with so many meaningless games.”
That stands to reason. With more teams in the playoffs fewer teams will be eliminated prior to the final week or two. It will also be interesting to see if the NFL reconfigures its scheduling, keeping intact the final week of games being exclusively Divisional games but perhaps making Week 16’s game all intra-conference games.
Jay Kornegay of the Westgate SuperBook pointed out that midseason odds adjustments “might be a bit more volatile” with teams off to slow starts not as much of a disadvantage as in past seasons and that there could be “more teams with value” as the season unfolds.
This also makes sense. Last season, for example, through six games, two of the dozen playoff teams were at or below .500 (Philadelphia 3-3, Tennessee 2-4). Of course, both the Eagles and Titans made the playoffs by winning their Divisions but the two teams that would have been seventh seeds both made late season runs. The Rams were 3-3 and the Steelers 2-4).
Nick Bogdanovich of William Hill noted that adjustments to Super Bowl and Conference odds will be adjusted differently, especially when it comes to a No. 2 seed as the season winds down and odds are reposted once the playoff seeds are set. “The two seed will be a little higher than usual real late in the season because of the extra game and the extra wear and tear,” he said. “And the one seed probably a touch lower just because they are only team with (a) bye and rest.”
It’s worth noting that the last six Super Bowls have featured two teams that were either No. 1 or No. 2 seeds. Four of the six were 1 vs. 1 and the other two were 2 vs. 2. Playoff expansion greatly benefits the top seed in each conference.
All three bookmakers agreed significant adjustments would be required for the propositions for each team to make or miss the playoffs. The “Will Make” will be negatively impacted such that the league’s elite teams will have to lay even more vig on that part of the prop. The lesser teams, especially those projected to win between six and eight games (likely borderline Wild Card contenders), will see the plus vig on the “Will Make” reduced if not eliminated in some cases.
Conversely the “Won’t Make” vigs will carry higher plus prices for the elite teams and higher minus vigs for the league’s weakest teams.
All that remains before we can more accurately assess teams’ preseason chances of making the playoffs or winning it all are next week’s NFL draft and the planned early May release of the 2020 schedule.