NEW YORK – NFL owners likely will consider expanding the playoffs by two teams, beginning in 2015, when they hold their spring meetings in Orlando next week, but a vote on the subject is uncertain.
A groundswell for raising the number of playoff qualifiers to seven in each conference figures to get plenty of support from the 32 owners. Most notably, Arizona’s Bill Bidwill, who saw his Cardinals go 10-6 and not get in, while Green Bay (8-7-1) qualified by winning the NFC North.
The current format of four division winners and two wild-card teams has existed since 2002, when Houston joined the league as an expansion team, bringing the membership to 32.
“There will be a report on the potential of expanded playoffs,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Wednesday. “We don’t know if there will be any vote at this meeting.”
Also on the agenda will be alterations to extra points, changing who oversees video replay reviews, and further clamping down on the use of racial slurs by players during games.
A change in the playoff structure would be needed if 14 teams qualify, with the top seed in each conference still getting a first-round bye. The next six teams would play in what is now the wild-card round, with the second seed facing No. 7, the third seed taking on No. 6 and the fourth and fifth seeds playing each other.
But the NFL’s influential competition committee is not presenting a proposal to the owners.
One reason the league is looking at more playoff teams is a stalemate in talks with the players union about expanding the regular season from 16 games. Another is the added revenue stream two more postseason games would provide, with those matches up for bidding among the current network partners — Fox, NBC, ESPN and CBS, which just grabbed an eight-week Thursday night package — and potential new broadcasters such as Turner Sports.
Scheduling of the extra wild-card games also would be dicey, although Monday night would seem logical for one of them.
Of course, adding two more playoff teams enhances the chances for teams with .500 or losing records to get in.
Commissioner Roger Goodell has suggested a change to the one-point kick on extra points might be needed because they have become so automatic. New England has proposed moving the line of scrimmage to the 25 for a one-point try, but leaving it at the 2-yard line for a 2-point conversion.
“There are a lot of different views in respect to the extra point,” said Falcons President Rich McKay, co-chairman of the competition committee. “There were 1,267 tried and 1,262 made (in 2013), and so there is that thought with the extra point maybe we need to add little more skill, and one of the ways to do it might be the way New England proposed.”
But it’s a long shot that anything will be done next week, except perhaps experimenting with longer kicks for one week of the preseason.
The Patriots also proposed extending the height of the goal posts 5 feet to make it easier to determine whether a kick is good.
New England also suggested allowing coaches challenges on everything except scoring plays, which are automatically reviewed.
Replay as an officiating tool always is in the news, and owners are expected to discuss having the NFL’s director of officiating, Dean Blandino and his staff at the league offices be involved in some review decisions. The league saw several inexplicable replay decisions made by referees last season, although McKay and Rams coach Jeff Fisher, the committee’s other co-chairman, praised the overall quality of officiating.
As for the use of racial slurs and verbal abuse, there already are rules on the books to deal with the issue. But an emphasis on stronger discipline will be discussed by the owners, and McKay noted that taunting fouls went up significantly from 2012 to 2013.
“We are going beyond the field of play, we are going to the workplace,” Fisher said of trying to eliminate such language. “This is going to be a very significant point of emphasis.”