Commentary

Expanded postseason field in sight

An 18-game schedule could net more playoff teams, but how many are too many?

Originally Published: February 2, 2011
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

Gurinder from Kelowna, British Columbia, thinks it's time for the NFL to expand its playoff field by four teams.

The reader/emailer says the two additional games will create revenue. Plus, Gurinder notes the NBA and NHL let roughly 50 percent of their teams into the playoffs, and Major League Baseball is thinking about expanding its playoffs.

I'm sure the NFL will follow suit once it expands to an 18 game-schedule. Sixteen teams might be too many, but 14 might be a fair compromise. As we are seeing, the wild-card teams are getting better and better each year as long as they have a top-level quarterback. As I've written before, I believe the NFL has 12 elite quarterbacks and it would be great to have them all make the playoffs.

The wild-card stigma is obviously gone when you realize the Green Bay Packers, a No. 6 seed, is favored in Super Bowl XLV over a Pittsburgh Steelers team that has been to the Super Bowl three times in six years. If Aaron Rodgers beats the Steelers, it would be the third time in six years a No. 5 or a No. 6 seeded team won the Super Bowl.

Fourteen playoff teams would be plenty. There were only 15 teams with winning records this season. Had the league had a 16-team playoff field, an 8-8 team would have made it along with the 7-9 division winner in the NFC West.

From the inbox

Q: With a possible 18-game season looming, it seems particularly important to think of the effects of injuries. Many teams, like my Saints, seem to avoid making any serious investments at running back for fear of injuries. Could an 18-game season do away with running backs as first-round picks altogether?

Will in New Orleans

A: The 18-game schedule will have an effect, but I don't know if running backs can be devalued any more than they are now. Running backs drafted in the first round usually don't get to their second contract with their original teams because they are so used up during the first five seasons. That's why they are often franchised for a year and the next thing you know they are let go. The game is changing in the sense that backs aren't getting as many carries during a season because of the rotation of two and three backs and the escalated use of the three-receiver sets. The 18-game schedule isn't the end of the world as we know it, though. As long as teams manage the number of plays of starters, it's not the worst thing in the world for the game as long as there is labor peace.

Q: It seems to me that there is a bias in the NFL to give defensive players "head shot" fines more so than offensive or special-teams players. Do you think my observations are correct?

Jason in Toledo, Ohio

A: Your observation is correct. You don't see the same type of fines on special teams because the returner is a runner and operates under different rules than quarterbacks or receivers. Runners have the ability to protect themselves because they can prepare for the hit unlike a receiver who doesn't have the chance to put both feet on the ground and brace for a hit. There probably needs to be a few more fines for offensive players who get too aggressive with their stiff arms to defenders. During the offseason, the NFL needs to be clearer and more consistent at getting defenders to know what is and isn't finable.

Q: Two-part question about the Tennessee Titans' coaching and quarterback vacancies: Bill Cowher has been mentioned for just about every other coaching vacancy, but I've yet to see his name mentioned for Tennessee. Why is that? Also, Chargers and former Titans backup QB Billy Volek has expressed interest in being a starter. Is he capable of being a Chad Pennington-type QB? Do you think the Titans will try to bring him in as a two- to three-year stopgap, or do they go in a different direction?

Derek in London, UK

A: The lack of a quarterback will prevent Cowher from showing interest in the Titans' job. He also wouldn't consider it because he wouldn't get control of the front office decision-making. I don't know if Volek would be the right answer. I look at him as a good backup, and a good backup is only able to get a team to eight wins at best. A Chad Pennington-type quarterback could get a team to 10 or 11 wins if the schedule is right and the talent on offense is decent.

Q: I think I have a compromise to the major sticking point in the CBA: the 18-game schedule. How about a 17-game schedule? Get rid of two of the preseason games. Add one more regular-season game and an extra bye week for each team, with the extra game being held at a neutral site. They could have games in Asia, Mexico or wherever, including L.A. Shoot holes in this idea and tell me what you think.

Kent in Aberdeen, S.D.

A: From the quality of the game standpoint, I think your compromise has great merit. The reason it won't happen is that the NFL owners don't want to shrink the number of total games (regular season and preseason games) from 20 to 19. That would reduce revenue. You're on the same page as the league people with the idea of going international with games, but I'm not sold that the money is there yet for international games to pay more than regular-season home games. Still, keep thinking creative ideas. Thoughts like these might settle this labor problem.

Q: With the Eagles changing their whole defense around, I am hearing talk of them bringing DT Albert Haynesworth in to work with his old defensive line coach from the Titans (Jim Washburn) and even working out a paycut just to reunite. I'm also wondering if they are trying to sign CB Nnamdi Asomugha from Oakland. Do the Eagles have the chance for both or even one?

Corey in Castleberry, Fla.

A: I would have to think Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan will do everything in the world to prevent Haynesworth from going to the Philadelphia Eagles. Even though it didn't work this year with Haynesworth and Shanahan, Haynesworth can still be a dominating player and he would be seeking revenge on the Redskins if he gets a chance to play them two times a year. Because the Eagles aren't afraid to go after top free agents, they have a chance to get Asomugha, but I still think he ends up staying in Oakland.

Q: I was wondering if you could take a trip back in time to your Pittsburgh Press days and help me understand why Donnie Shell has not received more serious consideration for the Pro Football Hall of Fame? If you look at statistics, say interceptions (51), he is comparable with many of the HOF safeties and corners. He was a five-time Pro Bowler and a good special-teamer. He won four Super Bowls and made some great contributions in two or three of those games.

Keith G in Cleveland

A: Shell once made the final 15 on the ballot, but two things hold him back. First, it's hard to get safeties into the Hall of Fame. Only six have made it. It almost takes more than the stats. I do think Troy Polamalu has a chance to make it because he changes the game so much. The other problem is the high number of Steelers from the 1970s who have been enshrined. Though this shouldn't happen, there probably is a tendency by some voters to not overdo it on one team. I think that hurt L.C. Greenwood, whom I believe should be in the Hall of Fame.

Q: Why did the Houston Texans hire a 3-4 guy in Wade Phillips (besides being a Denver buddy of Gary Kubiak)? It feels like too much money has been invested in the draft for 4-3 guys (i.e. Mario Williams, Amobi Okoye, Brian Cushing) who don't fit quite well into the 3-4 mold. I believe it was the secondary that got torched all season long (although at times the run defense was shoddy). Why not draft Patrick Peterson or make a serious run at Nnamdi Asomugha?

Joel in Austin, Texas

A: The labor uncertainty played some role in owner Bob McNair's decision to not blow up the entire coaching staff and hire someone like Bill Cowher. But let's study this for a second. McNair likes Kubiak and he likes how the offense is getting better every year. Phillips has always been able to fix defenses quickly once he gets to a new team, so McNair thought he could keep Kubiak and let Phillips try his hand with the defense. Phillips runs a 3-4 defense that has some 4-3 principles, so that could work. But let's face it: If Kubiak fails in 2011, he's gone and Cowher might be hired. If that does happen, they would have one year of experience with the 3-4. Cowher would have changed the Texans to a 3-4 anyway.

Q: I'm looking at the All-Pro team, and it seems as though everybody that is on the list deserves to be there. However, I look at the CBs and notice that Nnamdi Asomugha and Darrelle Revis were selected and it makes me curious if this position is more of a popularity contest than it is about play. I know Asomugha doesn't have any interceptions to support the argument, but it's because nobody threw his way. Revis, on the other hand, was hurt and out for a few games and still got burned a couple of times. They're excellent CBs, but were their All-Pro selections deserved?

Eddie in Kent, Ohio

A: As far as those two players go, it is no popularity contest. They stand out as being the best at their positions. Teams don't throw on Asomugha because he's that good. Revis is like Deion Sanders in that he covers so tight, Jets coach Rex Ryan can use 10 other players to blitz and Ryan doesn't have to worry about the opponent's top receiver getting many receptions. The situation is similar to tight ends in the AFC a few years ago. Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates were so much better than their peers that they were penciled into the All-Pro team in training camp.

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer