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Playoff re-seeding on radar for competition committee

INDIANAPOLIS -- The NFL's Competition Committee is an active participant at the annual NFL Scouting Combine, convening daily and polling league personnel on topics that will affect rules changes for next season.

Aside from the special briefing the committee heard Thursday morning from Commissioner Roger Goodell regarding the Patriots' videotaping procedures, one of the points of emphasis for the committee heading into next season will likely be the proposition of re-seeding playoff teams during the postseason.

"I would say there is definitely a healthy debate," co-chairman Rich McKay, general manager of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, said during a news conference. "To me, it's very easy to argue either side. I do think there are clear benefits to the re-seeding. I think the clear benefits are that you do have a chance to make some more games meaningful late in the season. It may only end up being one. It may end up being three. Some years it may be zero. But I think, still, that is a big benefit."

The focus of the argument for re-seeding is centered on reducing the number of games late in the regular season that have little or no impact on the postseason, as well as to lend incentive to non-division champions that have clinched playoff spots to improve their standing among other playoff teams.

"We've discussed re-seeding as a potential solution to that, it doesn't solve all the issues," said co-chairman Jeff Fisher, head coach of the Tennessee Titans. "You're always going to have teams that have clinched with a number of games left."

The drawbacks of the re-seeding proposal would be the de-emphasis of weaker teams who end up as division winners. While division winners are given weight under the current system with a home game, these teams would face a tougher road in the playoffs with re-seeding.

"In my mind, as long as you allow that division winner to automatically qualify for the playoffs and have every tiebreaker on anyone who has an equal record, I think you're respecting the division championship," said McKay. "Some people won't see it that way, and we'll figure it out."

McKay did acknowledge that the NFL foresaw potentially having to deal with playoff re-seeding as an unintended consequence of switching to eight four-team divisions in 2002. While the topic is under discussion, it's not a certainty at this point it will be proposed to league owners.

The competition committee will meet at the end of the month in Naples, Fla., to discuss more formally what will be presented to the members during the annual owners meetings held at the end of March in West Palm Beach, Fla.

Level playing field

For the third year in a row, the committee will be examining a proposal on coach-to-player defensive signals transmitted into headsets inside player's helmets, similar to the current system for quarterbacks on offense.

The issue gains complexity on the defensive side of the ball, and Fisher said the committee is discussing a modification to the proposal to give it a better chance of passing. The aspect of how to deal with an injury to the designated defensive signal caller is one potential hang-up.

Colts general manager Bill Polian said Goodell has cited leveling the playing field for defenses as a priority for the committee.

"As communications and technology develop, it's our charge as a committee to recommend to the membership procedures that make sure that the playing field is level," said Polian. "But it's difficult. Technology expands exponentially. It's a difficult task."

International incidents

The Buffalo Bills will play an annual regular-season game in Toronto over the next five seasons, and coach Dick Jauron thinks it's "an interesting opportunity" for his team.

"It will be an opportunity to get in front of some of our fans from the north in their home," Jauron said at the combine. "In order for us to keep our franchise strong and in Buffalo, we need to regionalize. That's the place to go. There's a lot of opportunity there. We have a lot of fans there already, and we'll be attracting more. It's an opportunity to get in front of those people."

Jauron has some familiarity with the Bills' situation, having worked nine years as an assistant coach in Green Bay, where the Packers played two regular-season games and one preseason contest in Milwaukee before moving all of their games to Green Bay. The distance between Milwaukee and Green Bay is just over 100 miles, about the same distance between Buffalo and Toronto.

"It ends up that we were successful in Milwaukee," said Jauron. "Our record in Milwaukee was good. We traveled about the same distance when we will travel to Toronto. It was a home game for us.

"We certainly had a fan base in Milwaukee when I was in Green Bay. We'll have the same thing in Toronto. From that point of view, we've just got to make it an advantage for us. We've got to treat it like a home game where we have an opportunity to perform in front of our fans and then make it work."

Day 1

The combine officially got underway on Thursday as the first group of NFL hopefuls -- kickers, special teams players, offensive linemen and tight ends -- arrived at the RCA Dome and Indianapolis Convention Center for the first day of measurements, medical examinations and team interviews.

The second group, comprised of quarterbacks and wide receivers, is scheduled to arrive today and begin the same process on Friday. Defensive linemen and linebackers arrive Friday, followed by defensive backs on Saturday.

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