Wednesday, March 19, 2003

NFL considers expanding playoffs

Plan puts 14 teams in postseason

The Associated Press

NEW YORK - The NFL is considering a proposal made by the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs to expand the playoffs by two wild-card teams. But like the dozens of proposals submitted annually by teams and individuals before the NFL meetings, it probably will not be enacted this year because "no" votes by only nine of the 32 teams would defeat it.

Under the proposal, the playoffs would increase next season from six teams to seven for each conference, with only the team with the best record in each conference getting a first-round bye. It is being considered by the league's competition committee, which is split on the idea.

The league meetings are scheduled for March 23-26 in Phoenix.

When the league voted in June 2001 to go from six divisions to eight, it decided to continue with 12-team playoffs. At that time, commissioner Paul Tagliabue and other top officials said the NFL wanted to see how the system worked before changing it.

Under the new format, teams play only six of their 16 games within their divisions, leaving open the possibility that a weak division could be won by a team with a record of 8-8 or 7-9. Because there are now just two wild-card teams instead of three, that leaves open the possibility that a team with a winning record could miss the playoffs while a .500 team makes it.

That happened in 1985, when Cleveland won the AFC Central at 8-8 while Denver (11-5) missed the postseason. In that season, only five teams made the playoffs from each conference.

But the six teams that made the playoffs from each conference in the first season of the eight-division format were the six with the best records.

Among other items to be discussed at the meetings is a proposal to change the overtime system to allow both teams a shot at the ball. That idea, which had considerable backing after a record number of overtime games in the regular season, seems to have lost momentum in the two months since.

RAVENS: Offensive tackle Orlando Brown joined Baltimore after sitting out for three seasons because of a freak eye injury caused by a referee's flag. He signed a $1 million, one-year deal.

Brown has not played since he was struck in the right eye Dec. 19, 1999 while playing for Cleveland.

He later sued the NFL and was cut by the Browns in September 2000. At the time, he had a six-year $27 million contract, that included a $7.5 million signing bonus.

Brown, who is 6 feet 7, 360 pounds, said he turned down a four-year offer from Minnesota to return to Baltimore, where he played before joining Cleveland. He originally was drafted by the old Cleveland Browns, who moved to Baltimore after the 1995 season and became the Ravens.

"I know I turned down a lot of money, like $15 mil, to sign a $1 million contract with the Ravens, but I like the city here and my kids are here, too," Brown said in a statement released by the team.

The Ravens also said they had agreed to a four-year deal with linebacker Cornell Brown, who missed the 2001 season due to a drug charge that later was dropped. Last season, he earned a spot in the starting lineup and finished ninth on the team with 67 tackles.

STEELERS: Offensive lineman Todd Fordham signed a three-year, $2.4 million deal and will compete for the starting job at right tackle. He started nine games at right tackle for Jacksonville last season.

TEXANS: Houston re-signed cornerbacks Jason Bell and Pat Dennis and quarterback Mike Quinn.

Bell led the special teams unit with 16 tackles but missed three games because of a fractured right wrist early in the season. Dennis' season ended when he tore a knee ligament in October.

Quinn served as emergency third-string quarterback last season and did not play.

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