- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 15, 2001

NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue said yesterday that he won't decide until Tuesday whether to play this weekend's 15 postponed games at the end of the season or cancel them.

The NFL expanded its schedule from 14 to 16 games in 1978 and has played that many since save for 1987, when a players' strike canceled the third week's games and caused the owners to hire replacement players for the following three weeks.

With no week off between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl this January, Tagliabue must decide whether to extend the regular season and eliminate the wild-card weekend or shorten the season to 15 games for every team except San Diego, which had a bye this weekend. NFL sources believe the former option has more support around the league.

Baltimore owner Art Modell said he hopes the pause in the action will help bring an end to the dispute between the NFL and its officials that led to replacements working the final preseason games as well as the season openers.

"Hopefully, this respite will give people a chance to knock heads and come to some agreement," Modell said Thursday. "My own observations from our game and the games I saw on television was that the replacement guys did a pretty good job. There were probably more [mistakes] of omission than [incorrectly called] penalties. They did a credible job."

During the eight years that each conference had just one wild-card entrant as would be true this season if the opening round is dropped those 16 teams posted an average record of 10-4 with only Buffalo in 1974 and Chicago in 1977 finishing as low as 9-5.

During 11 years under the current system of three wild-card qualifiers per conference, those 66 teams have posted an average record of 10-6. In 1999, Dallas and Detroit both made the playoffs with 8-8 records. From 1978 to 1989, except for the strike-shortened 1982 season, each conference had two wild cards.

Several other teams besides the Chargers now face schedule quirks. Detroit, New Orleans, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay won't play their home openers until Oct. 7 or 8 because of early-season byes.

That's especially glaring for the Steelers, who were set to play their first regular-season game at Heinz Field tomorrow against Cleveland. If this weekend's games are moved to the end of the season, the Browns and Bills will finish with three straight road contests while Carolina will wind up with three in a row at home. And Arizona, which had a bye last week and leads the lamentable NFC East with a 0-0 record, won't start its season until next Sunday.

This weekend's halt also means that the four teams most affected by Tuesday's terrorist attacks the Steelers, New York Giants, New York Jets and Washington Redskins, will be on the road when the NFL returns next weekend.

The Redskins now will play four of their first five games on the road, something they haven't done since 1970. Washington went 6-8 that season, its only losing record from 1969 through 1979. Washington's only home game from the start of the season until Oct. 21 comes Sept. 30 against Kansas City, coach Marty Schottenheimer's former team.

Note The Redskins held a private ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery early yesterday afternoon. Owner Dan Snyder, coaches, players, employees and families attended the hour-long service at the cemetery's amphitheater. Team chaplain Brett Fuller and former team chaplain Lee Corder presided. Redskins players then were given the weekend off. They return to Redskin Park Monday to begin preparations for their Sept. 24 game at Green Bay.


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