The Ravens were the last team to reach the Super Bowl without a playoff bye. Starting next season, playoff byes will be even harder to earn.
NFL owners voted Tuesday to expand the playoff field from 12 to 14 teams beginning in the 2020 season, with only the No. 1 seed in each conference receiving a bye. The four division winners in each conference will be joined in the playoffs by three wild-card teams. Wild Card Weekend will feature three playoffs games in each conference, with the No. 2 seed playing No. 7, No. 3 vs. No. 6, and No. 4 vs. No. 5.
The new format will place even greater importance on being the No. 1 seed, with the No. 2 seed no longer earning a first-round bye. For the past seven seasons, every team that reached the Super Bowl earned a first-round bye. The 2012 Ravens, who defeated the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII, were the last team to reach the Super Bowl without a bye.
Ravens safety Chuck Clark has mixed emotions about 14 of the league's 32 teams being able to qualify for the playoffs.
"You look at the expansion of the playoffs, you want teams in there that are actually deserving of ii," Clark said. "Are they really deserving of it for their win and loss history throughout the season? It's kind of tough for both sides, but that's what it's going to be now. That's what we have to go in and rock with, so that's how it's going to be."
Under a 14-team playoff format, the Ravens would have made the playoffs in 2017 after finishing 9-7 as the No. 7 seed in the AFC. Football Outsiders ranked that 2017 Ravens team as the fifth-best No. 7 seed since 1990 when the NFL began its 12-team playoff format. The past two seasons, the Ravens have won the AFC North to secure their playoff berth, and last year they were the No. 1 seed in the AFC after the best regular season (14-2) in franchise history.
Ravens President Dick Cass likes the idea of expanding the playoffs, but he pointed out that some teams will now have the potential to host three playoff games in one season.
"I like the idea of an additional playoff game, but I do worry that a No. 2 seed could have to host three home playoff games, and that could end up being very expensive for our fans," Cass said on "The Lounge" podcast. "That's a good problem to have in some ways, but I also worry about it. But I do think adding a seventh playoff team in each conference was the right thing to do. It's going to be exciting."