Three years ago, the NFL decided to expand its playoff tournament from 12 to 14 teams. Introducing a seventh seed in each conference, however, has not necessarily improved the competitiveness of the Wild Card playoff round.
With both the Miami Dolphins and Seattle Seahawks losing their respective games in Buffalo and San Francisco this weekend, seventh-seeded teams are now 0-for-6 since the playoff expansion.
Indianapolis Colts lose to Buffalo Bills: The first-ever playoff game featuring a No. 7 seed saw the Colts visit Buffalo in Jan. 2021. While the contest was a competitive one early on, the Bills started to pull away late to take home a 27-24 victory.
Chicago Bears lose to New Orleans Saints: Mitchell Trubisky’s final game with the Bears was a snoozefest for the NFC’s lowest-ranked playoff participant that year. Chicago lost 21-9. On the bright side of things, Trubisky was named the game’s NVP, so that was nice.
Philadelphia Eagles lose to Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Eagles are one of the best teams in the NFL right now. A year ago, however, they were a seventh-seed team getting its doors blown off by Tom Brady and company. Tampa took a 31-0 lead before taking its foot off the gas to win with a final score of 31-15.
Pittsburgh Steelers lose to Kansas City Chiefs: The second game featuring a No. 7 seed last year looked a lot like the first: it was a lopsided affair. Pittsburgh did get the game’s first score on a defensive touchdown, but went on to surrender 35 unanswered points en route to a 42-21 defeat.
Seattle Seahawks lose to San Francisco 49ers: Geno Smith vs. Brock Purdy with a Divisional round spot on the line, just as we all predicted. The game was a back-and-forth in the first half, but eventually saw the 49ers go on a run in the second. 25 unanswered points later, the game was effectively over. San Francisco advanced on a 41-23 win.
Miami Dolphins lose to Buffalo Bills: Miami snuck into the postseason this year and appeared to be out of its element on Wild Card weekend, falling behind 17-0. However, a series of Bills mistakes allowed the team back into this game — even taking the lead in the early third quarter. Eventually, however, Miami ran out of gas and ended up losing 34-31.
With the exception of Dolphins-Bills on Sunday, the NFL’s games between second- and seventh-seeded teams generally followed the same script: the higher-seeded club started going on a run at one point and never looked back, outpacing its opposition on the way to the Divisional round.
Obviously, no two games are alike. Nonetheless, the question can still be raised whether expanding the field has brought more quality football to the playoffs. Three years and six games into the 14-team postseason format that has not been the case — despite the Dolphins and Bills doing their best to change that narrative.
Alas, it was not meant to be. Now we will have to wait for January 2024 to find out whether or not a seventh-seeded team can finally get off the schneid.