According to Patriots owner Robert Kraft the NFL needs to consider expanding the current playoff system to include more teams. Kraft said Thursday following a Community Quarterbacks award ceremony at Gillette Stadium that he believes the league needs to consider a playoff system expansion to go along with the recent expansion of the league to 32 teams. Since Kraft bought the Patriots in 1994 the NFL has added four expansion teams, the Carolina Panthers, the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Cleveland Browns and most recently the Houston Texans.
"We went from 28 teams to 32 teams and we have the same number of teams in the playoffs," Kraft said. "I think there probably should be two more teams in the playoffs. That's something that I am personally going to lobby for. I think it's correct and this way I believe we would have made it if that had been the case. I think it is the right thing to do."
"When we had 28 teams, we had 12 teams make the playoffs. When we have 32 teams, we still have 12 in the playoffs. You have certain teams that have an advantage. Let's say someone plays an expansion team twice, there are certain anomalies with the new divisional setup that aren't entirely fair. Over time it will all work out, but I think that any team that goes 9-7…I think we want to be careful, we don't want teams that are 8-8 or 7-9 making the playoffs. So I do think that is one of the concerns."
The defending Super Bowl champion Patriots finished the 2002 season at 9-7 tied with four other AFC teams, missing the playoffs thanks to a number of tie breakers. New England and the Denver Broncos would have been the next two teams in the AFC to qualify for the postseason in an expanded system, although Denver would have held the tie-breaker over the Patriots thanks to a head-to-head victory.
Kraft said he had discussed the proposal with a group of NFL owner that he had spent time with on Wednesday and that they seemed somewhat receptive to the idea.
"I happened to be with a group of owners yesterday and we talked about it," Kraft said. "I know [Denver Broncos owner] Pat Bowlen is [willing to consider the idea]. He and I talked. I think part of it is that there is some sense that we'd like to let the new system and the new divisional lineup go a few years and see what happens because we don't want making the playoffs to be a joke. But on the other hand I really feel we had turned a little corner. Probably the best teams in the NFL, four of the top six or eight teams are there. But when you think about the excitement of our sport it is that so many teams had a chance to make the playoffs right until the end. And as we saw last year once that happens, anything can happen and that is where good management and having good fortune with injuries and where you play [come into account]."
The exact system as to how an expanded playoff would work though would be something that the NFL owners would have to study and consider.
"Maybe the would be a change in format. There might be more byes. Maybe everyone who wins a division gets a bye. There are all kinds of ripples that it can take."
Kraft also said that he had met with Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick Thursday morning to discuss the upcoming offseason maneuvers the team would be making. The owner was quick to point out that he is extremely happy with the current setup and direction of the organization as a whole, although he is certainly disappointed with the team's failure to break into the postseason.
"Obviously everyone associated with our organization wants to do everything we can to put ourselves in the best position to win and hopefully make the playoffs," Kraft said. "That's our objective at the beginning of every year. So we are trying to develop a framework where we can do exactly that. I think we are developing an organization and structure that I am comfortable puts us in a good position. I think we will be a formidable opponent in the future. Like all the fans here, our objective is to make the playoffs and put things in place that allows us to do that. I am very comfortable with the organization's structure and I am happy to go up against anyone else in the NFL with what we have here."
The only topic Kraft really avoided in his impromptu media session on Thursday was the current officiating controversy that has put a slight black mark on the NFL playoffs. As one of the more well-respected owners in the league it a topic he will likely hear much more about in the upcoming offseason as the NFL searches for ways to improve the officiating.
"I am going to let the guru's deal with officiating," Kraft said with a smile. "If we were playing and we had a chance to worry I guess I'd be concerned, but I don't know enough to answer [about the officiating]."
According to Thursday's Boston Herald the Patriots have been granted permission by the Jacksonville Jaguars to talk to Jags assistant coach Steve Szabo. Szabo has been the Jaguars linebackers coach for the last eight seasons under recently-fired head coach Tom Coughlin. Prior to his work in Jacksonville, Szabo had been Coughlin's defensive coordinator at Boston College. The 59-year-old Szabo has 34 years of coaching experience, 25 of those years at the college level.