The Raiders’ path to the playoffs in 2020 just got a little easier.
The NFL announced Tuesday that the playoff format for the coming season will be expanded from 12 to 14 teams, with an additional wild-card team for each conference.
For the Raiders – who just missed a playoff spot in 2019 at 7-9, and have just one playoff appearance since 2003 -- the extra wild-card spot could be the final-week boost for a franchise trying to fight its way to the top of a very competitive AFC West that includes the Super Bowl-champion Chiefs.
Under the new expanded format, the top seed in each conference will receive a bye during the wild-card round in the opening week of the postseason. The No. 2 seed will no longer have an opening-week bye.
And, as Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com noted, had the extra wild-card been in effect in 2019, the 8-8 Steelers (AFC) and 9-7 Rams would have been the additional playoff teams.
The Raiders went into the final game of the regular-season schedule still alive in the wild-card hunt at 7-8, but lost to the Denver Broncos 16-15. If they’d won, the Raiders would have clinched the final wild-card spot instead of the Steelers (because of a tiebreaker over Pittsburgh).
Of course, the Raiders will still have to be better in 2020 to hope for any kind of run through the postseason. But the door to that opportunity will be a tiny bit wider for Jon Gruden’s team.