- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 19, 2003

When NFL owners convene next week in Phoenix for their annual spring meetings, they will consider expanding the playoffs from six to seven teams in each conference.
The proposal, which is being pushed by the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs, addresses the addition of four teams in the league since the playoffs were last expanded from 10 to 12 teams in 1990.
"Before expansion, 12 teams out of 28 [43 percent] made the playoffs and now that we're up to 32 teams, there's a feeling that we should go to 14 playoff teams [44 percent] to maintain the same percentage," said Houston Texans general manager Charley Casserly, a member of the league's eight-member competition committee.
Casserly said he has mixed emotions about the proposal, particularly about just one team instead of the current two for each conference gaining a bye into the second round.
"The bye is a major advantage," Casserly said. "Teams with the bye win their first game 75 percent of the time. Look at last year. Green Bay just missed out on one of the NFC byes and had to play the first week and lost. Tampa Bay had a bye and went on to win the Super Bowl. If the Bucs hadn't had the bye, they probably would have lost their opener since [ailing quarterback] Brad Johnson wouldn't have been able to play."
When NFL owners approved the realignment from six divisions to eight in June 2001 effective for the 2002 season, they decided to keep the 12-team playoff format with the idea of trying the new setup for two years before making any changes. Teams now play only six of their 16 games in 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 while a team with a winning record misses out since there are just two wild-card teams instead of the former three in each conference.
That happened in 1985, when Cleveland won the AFC Central at 8-8 while Denver failed to gain one of the conference's then-two wild cards at 11-5. That situation helped prompt the expansion to 12 playoff teams.
However, last year the six playoff teams from each conference were the six with the best records. Given that success, the competition committee being split on the issue and the usual reluctance of NFL owners to make big changes quickly, the playoff expansion's outlook isn't bright. It only takes nine negative votes among the 32 owners to defeat a proposal.

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