The expansion of the NFL playoff system from 12 to 14 teams, a proposal put forth by both the Patriots and the Kansas City Chiefs, continues to be one of the biggest issues being debated at the NFL Annual Meeting in Phoenix.
But while the proposal is a relatively simple one, adding a wild card team in each conference with only the top seed receiving a playoff bye, there has been a certain degree of confusion surrounding the issue as to how it would have affected last season.
Had there been an additional playoff spot in each conference, the two teams that would have joined the postseason would have been the New Orleans Saints in the NFC and the Denver Broncos in the AFC. There has been some confusion around this issue and many have incorrectly reported that the Patriots would have been the seventh AFC team to make the postseason.
The final spot in the AFC would have come down to a three-way tie between the Patriots, Broncos and Miami Dolphins, all with 9-7 records. The Dolphins would be the first team eliminated in the tiebreaker via a 2-4 division record compared to a 4-2 Patriots division record. Then the Patriots would be eliminated in a head-to-head tiebreaker with the Broncos thanks to a regular season 24-16 loss to the Broncos at Gillette Stadium.
While the debates over the playoff expansion as well as possible overtime changes were tabled to today, the final day of the meeting, the NFL announced a change in playoff officiating on Tuesday. Starting next postseason the league will assign officiating crews for playoff games by entire crew rather than compiling crews of all-star officials. The league felt the change would add some continuity to playoff officiating and could lead to a better performance by the officials.
"You are changing from a philosophy of going from the best officials moving on to the best officiating moving on," Mike Perrierra, NFL supervisor of officials, told ESPN.com.
Belichick quiet on Jones front
Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick is at the NFL owners' meeting in Phoenix, a place where trades and contract deals tend to be easier to hammer out due to the fact that most of the major decision makers from around the league are in the same place. But with that in mind and the fact that there have been numerous Tebucky Jones trade rumors of late, Belichick is maintaining his policy of not commenting on or speculating about moves before they happen.
"Anybody else can say what they want to say," Belichick said at a breakfast with the media at the meetings. "I don't comment on players and transactions. I'm not denying it, I'm just not commenting."
While there is not a pressing need on the New England end to make a deal -- the team is under the salary cap with Tebucky Jones, Lawyer Milloy and Rodney Harrison all on the books -- there has been a general belief that the team will look to move Jones or Milloy in a money-saving measure. As it stands now the three safeties count for almost $10 million on the 2003 cap and if the team can't reach a long-term agreement with Jones, he and his $3 million franchise salary would likely be the easiest to move.
The NFL announced the nationally televised games for the 2003 opening weekend earlier this week. The first Monday Night game of the year will be an NFC Championship game rematch between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Philadelphia Eagles on Sept. 8. The first ESPN Sunday Night game will be a rematch of last season's AFC title game between the Oakland Raiders and Tennessee Titans. Fox will have a national Sunday afternoon game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Atlanta Falcons in Bill Parcells' return to the NFL. … The Bills added another free agent Monday when the Seattle Seahawks declined to match the Buffalo offer sheet to kicker Rian Lindell. Lindell will go to Buffalo with a reported four-year $4.2 million deal. He replaces Mike Hollis in Buffalo. … Free agent linebacker Chris Claiborne agreed to a two-year deal with the Minnesota Vikings on Tuesday to join a defense that ranked 26 in the NFL last season. Claiborne posted more than 100 tackles in each of his last three seasons with the Detroit Lions and has missed just one game during his four-year career.