Brad Childress (Scott Boehm/Getty)
The NFL wants to do everything it can to keep more games competitive in the closing weeks of the regular season, when some playoff teams have elected to sit their starters to avoid injury. The schedule this year could include divisional games in Week 17 and more of them in Week 16. It could have a chilly affect on the Vikings.
The NFL’s new rule regarding overtime in playoff games dominated the news this week at the annual owners meetings, but commissioner Roger Goodell made one interesting revelation Wednesday at his press conference to conclude the meetings.
Goodell said the league is working to make all Week 17 games and more Week 16 contests divisional matchups to help alleviate concerns that too many teams are resting starters in the final two weeks of the season when they have already made the playoffs. Goodell said that is something being worked on with the Competition Committee.
“It’s important to the quality of what we do and the integrity of our game,” he said.
Since divisional games carry more weight in determining playoff seedings, the change could help spur more teams to field a more competitive lineup in the final weeks of the season if they still have a chance to move up or down in the playoff seedings.
Goodell admitted that the move might not completely alleviate late-season competition issues, but that change would likely reduce the instances of NFL teams sitting their starters.
It might also create more outdoor, cold-weather games for the Vikings, as they could end up playing at Lambeau Field or Soldier Field in late December and early January.
The scheduling issue might also be why the NFL didn’t release its featured prime-time games this week at the owners meetings in Orlando. The Vikings are thought to be the leading candidate to open the regular season on a Thursday night in New Orleans for a rematch of the NFC Championship, but the league is still working out the details of the schedule, which should be released in full in mid-April.
GOING OVERTIME ON OVERTIME
The new rule for playoff overtime games that will allow both teams to possess the ball unless the first team scores a touchdown received more reaction from Goodell Wednesday.
“I thought it was a great discussion. I think the discussion over the last few days – there were separate meetings with the coaches and we all came together yesterday with the Competition Committee,” Goodell said. “The owners were very engaged in the dialogue. The owners felt very strongly about making the change here. There was very good debate on the plusses and minuses. The owners felt that this was good for the game and good for the fans. They hear the same thing that I hear, which is: The overtime system, is it really fair when one team doesn’t get the opportunity to possess the ball? I think we’ve come up with a balanced system.”
There was controversy surrounding the vote since it was expected to take place Wednesday, but instead the league took the vote on Tuesday after many of the coaches had left the meetings for the day to attend other functions.
“We had a full discussion (Tuesday) with the coaches in the room and the owners heard it. It’s probably no secret that there are certain owners that may have a different view than their coaches. But there are 32 clubs with 32 votes and this may not come as a news flash, but the owners have a vote,” Goodell said.
Goodell said there were clearly enough votes for it yesterday and there were some owners that weren’t able to be at the meetings on Wednesday. In addition, he said the issue would have passed if the coaches were in the room when the owners voted. It ended up passing by a 28-4 vote.
The new overtime format is also being considered for the regular season.
“I think what we’d like to do is continue to analyze it and go back and talk to our players about it,” Goodell said, adding that there is a “strong consensus” to expand it into the regular season.
According to NFL Network, three playoff games have ended on the first possession of overtime by a field goal – New Orleans beat Minnesota in the 2009 NFC Championship, Tennessee beat Pittsburgh in the 2002 AFC divisional round, and New England beat Oakland in the 2001 AFC divisional round. New Orleans and New England went on to win the Super Bowls in those respective playoffs.
Goodell said the overtime rules change doesn’t have to be collectively bargained with the NFL Players Association and that the owners’ obligation is to meet with the players and coaches and get their input.
COMMISH ON McKINNIE
Goodell was asked Wednesday about why Bryant McKinnie was “fined” for not participating in the Pro Bowl. McKinnie said he had an injury that he thought he could play through, but his injury concerns weren’t relayed to the NFC coaching staff in a timely manner and therefore the NFC squad didn’t have enough time to find a replacement for him. McKinnie had to pay back almost $5,000 in Pro Bowl expenses and forfeit his Pro Bowl check.
“I don’t know the specifics on it. Our staff was handling the specifics, so I can’t talk to the specifics of whether we fined him or didn’t fine him,” Goodell said. “Believe it or not, there are certain things that I don’t get involved with, and that’s not one of them. But obviously when we have an NFL event, we want everyone to participate in it as they are obligated to do. It’s part of their contract. It’s part of their obligation.”
The NFC coaches breakfast with the media was held Wednesday morning and Brad Childress was asked about – surprise – Brett Favre. “You have to be able to deal with uncertainty and ambiguity because that’s what our business about,” he said, adding that there is nothing new to note with Favre’s contemplation to potentially come back for another season.
Eagles coach Andy Reid answered questions about potentially trading QB Donovan McNabb. “I’m just keeping my ears open, which we do on every player,” Reid said. “Donovan is our No. 1 quarterback and Kevin (Kevin Kolb) is our No. 2 quarterback. …. Donovan is our starting quarterback.”
Goodell said the economy continues to play a role in potential television blackouts of NFL games. He said teams are working harder to keep their season-ticket numbers up and that there has been “significant turnover” among that ticket base. “It’s about value and how do we create better value?” he said.
The Competition Committee also discussed issues pertaining to the league’s policy on personal conduct and its drug policy.