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Archive for Sunday, September 16, 2001

Officials lean toward 16-game season, smaller playoff field

September 16, 2001

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— The NFL is leaning toward keeping a 16-game schedule but reducing the playoff field to make up for the postponement of this weekend's games after the terrorist attacks.

Under the plan, this week's schedule would be played the weekend of Jan. 5-6, which was slated for wild-card games. The postseason then would begin the following weekend with eight playoff teams instead of 12 there would be just one wild-card team from each conference instead of three.

League and team officials and others closely connected to the NFL, speaking on condition of anonymity, said discussions were continuing. Another plan was still under consideration, they said, but the league seemed to be leaning toward the 16-game plan for two reasons: continuity, and so players are paid for an entire season.

The second option would simply erase the games scheduled for this weekend. That would mean 30 teams would play 15 games this season and the San Diego Chargers, who were scheduled to be off this week, would play 16.

Under that scenario, the 12-team playoff format would not be reduced.

Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher said Tampa Bay general manager Rich McKay, chairman of the competition committee, told him Saturday both plans still were under consideration. The committee's decision will be an important factor in commissioner Paul Tagliabue's decision.

Fisher favors having all teams play 16 games.

"If we play everything, then everything will work itself out," he said.

Others around the league noted that rarely under the 12-team playoff format have the fifth- and six-seeded teams advanced very far in the playoffs. Last season, for example, all four of the lowest seeds were eliminated in the wild-card round.

In fact, the last time a fifth- or sixth-seeded team reached a conference championship game was after the 1996 season, when Jacksonville upset Buffalo and Denver to reach the AFC title game. The Jaguars lost to New England in that game.

League officials cautioned that Tagliabue was still weighing many factors.

Last week, many around the NFL believed the commissioner had decided to let the games go on this week. However, a vote by NFL Players Association representatives not to play had a strong effect on Tagliabue. On Thursday, he announced the games were off.

The NFLPA is considering having players donate one game's paycheck to victims of Tuesday's attacks.

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