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Expanded NFL Playoffs Could Shorten Preseason, Dilute Postseason

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Copyright 2013 Gannett Company, Inc.
All Rights Reserved

USA TODAY
October 9, 2013 Wednesday
FINAL EDITION
SPORTS; Pg. 3C
738 words
COMING SOON TO NFL: MORE PLAYOFF TEAMS
Jarrett Bell,jbell@usatoday.com,USA TODAY Sports

If the NFL moves forward with the notion of expanding its playoff field to 14 teams, at least one marketing slogan is already in the bag:

Eight-and-eight can win a date ... to the Big Dance.

As league owners wrapped up their day-long fall meetings Tuesday, Commissioner Roger Goodell said it was possible the playoffs, set at 12 teams since 1990, could be expanded for the 2015 season at the earliest.

It will happen.

Goodell opened the meetings by declaring to owners that the league was in the strongest position it has been in during his 32 years with the NFL.

With a long-term labor deal with players, another huge increase in network TV contracts, more stadium projects in the works and, most important, enormous popularity, it's tough to argue that the business side of the NFL has ever been stronger.

The league even settled, for $765million, the concussion case with retired players that threatened to cost a lot more, perhaps in the billions.

Now would be a good time to expand the playoffs.

People will watch, accompanied by hype and TV ratings.

And as Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones likes to say, the league can find another way to grow the pie.

It also makes sense on another level.

The league can reduce the dreaded preseason to, say, three games. As it stands, not a single game from the final week of the preseason is televised nationally.

And why have an 18-game regular season when you can have 8-8 playoff teams?

Had the NFL had 14 playoff teams last season, the Chicago Bears (10-6) and Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8) would have made the cut.

Over the last five years, an 11-5 New England Patriots squad (2008) and the 10-6 New York Giants (2010) did not make the playoffs.

Yet, over the last five years, just as many eight-win teams would have made it as 10-win teams ... along which a bunch of 9-7 outfits in a 14-team field.

So the playoffs in the parity-balanced league -- with its weekly drama of close games -- would be diluted with an extra round.

Goodell sees it all as half-full rather than half-empty. With expanded playoffs, more games later in the regular season will be meaningful.

As if the Super Bowl runs in recent years by the sixth-seeded Green Bay Packers and fifth-seeded Giants didn't fuel enough hope, there would be another layer with more playoff teams.

"That's a good thing for fans," Goodell said.

The competition committee will study the issue in 2014. The biggest issue, though, might be simply figuring how out to schedule two more playoff teams.

Tripleheaders on Saturday and Sunday during the first postseason weekend?

Goodell said it was possible two games would be played on Friday night.

One thing seems certain: It's coming ... from the league that already gives you Thursday Night Football. Also:

The controversy regarding the racial slur that is the Washington Redskins' nickname wasn't on the agenda for the meetings, but it was undoubtedly part of the backdrop.

Goodell, who repeated his stance that the league should listen to the concerns of offended people, didn't rule out his possible attendance at a meeting the league is in the process of arranging with the Oneida Indian Nation.

Goodell, however was non-committal about whether owner Daniel Snyder should be compelled to meet with Native Americans.

Several NFL owners declined to comment on the controversy.

"That's Dan's issue," San Francisco 49ers owner John York said.

New Orleans, Indianapolis and Minneapolis were selected as finalists to host Super Bowl LII in 2018. Good thing: The power outage that delayed the most recent Super Bowl didn't hurt New Orleans' chances. Meanwhile, Minneapolis is in the mix with a new stadium deal on the map. Indianapolis is riding momentum built with its first Super Bowl in February 2012.

Said Colts owner Jim Irsay: "This proves that Indianapolis is really a unique city in the sense that as a medium-sized market in a colder market without 80 degrees and beaches, that we're able to compete again -- not just on a payback aspect of having built a stadium, but on the merits of the job we did."

The NFL will expand its global presence by staging three games in London in 2014, with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Atlanta Falcons and Oakland Raiders pegged as the home teams. This season, the league is holding two games in London for the first time.

Goodell said he didn't view the expansion of games as a clear signal that the NFL will place a franchise in London, but he reiterated that it was a possibility.

photo Carolyn Kaster, AP
October 9, 2013

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