In theory, a 16-team field could restore the second bye for each conference. But the best way to maximize revenues -- and that's why we're here, isn't it? -- would be to eliminate byes altogether and play eight games in the wild-card round. That would be a substantial aesthetic change, but it would also significantly increase the chances of our so-called "accidental champion" result.
Paine's model indicates the elimination of first-round byes would redistribute the odds that would otherwise go to the top teams. In other words, a 16-game field would give lower seeds a much better chance to win the Super Bowl than they already have.
The NFL might some day prefer that scenario, which would fall under its larger umbrella of parity and increasing embrace of unpredictability. But it would probably be too much too soon for a slow-moving institution.
9. What do players think of the proposal?
While it remains fiercely opposed to an 18-game regular season, the NFLPA appears more open to expanded playoffs. The change would still be a matter of collective bargaining, but Winston embraced it during a March interview with KILT-AM in Houston.
"For the record," Winston said, "I don't put that expanded playoff in the same category as 18-game [seasons]. We're talking about one extra game, possibly, for two teams or four teams total, if you would count both AFC [and] NFC."
As noted earlier, more players would get an opportunity for playoff bonuses, which are a fraction of their base salaries but still represent found money. The increased attention of postseason play could also figure into additional marketing opportunities.
9. What do fans think?
While viewed as inevitable by most, all anecdotal evidence and unscientific polls suggest fans don't like the idea of expanded playoffs (especially at this hopeful time of year, when fans think their team will be a No. 1 seed rather than fighting for No. 6). Two-thirds of nearly 190,000 respondents to a recent ESPN SportsNation poll opposed it.
The most common objection is that it would devalue the regular season, as articulated by Kyle Segall on Twitter: "Making it easier to get in cheapens it a bit, to me. Perfect as is." Tweeted Andrew Baker: "It's so perfect as it is right now... I hate that leagues are always trying to expand for $$ when systems are great."
The NFL, however, would take a longer-range view that recognizes fans have eventually grown accustomed to most changes over the decades, be it the move to a 16-game season, the advent of free agency and instant replay, franchise expansion or redrawing divisions.
10. Is this really inevitable?
Take it to Vegas. It will happen, probably for 2015 to allow for a more orderly set of final negotiations and planning. The mission of all big business is growth, and the NFL views playoff expansion as a growth opportunity with minimal big-picture downside.
What's the worst thing that can happen? You're wrong if you think it's a lower quality of play in the postseason. That doesn't matter unless television ratings fall in conjunction with it. Does anyone really think fewer fans will watch the playoffs because two more teams have been added? Moving on ...