NFL to discuss expanded playoffs

IRVING, Texas -- Commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday at the NFL's owners meetings that the league would spend the next few months exploring playoff expansion.

"Of course, something that we discussed in the past is expanded playoffs. That is something that we teed up (at the meeting Wednesday)," he said. "We will probably be looking at it with the committee over the next several months. Right now, we are at 12 teams, obviously. We will look at probably 14 or 16. The committee will be looking at that."

In the current format, adopted in 2002 after the NFL added the Houston Texans and realigned the league into eight four-team divisions, 12 teams make the playoffs -- eight division champions and two wild cards in each conference.

The NFL has had 12 teams qualify for the postseason since 1990, when it expanded the field from 10, adding a third wild card in each conference to join three division champions.

Goodell also spoke Tuesday with players' union boss DeMaurice Smith over issues of drinking and driving. In addition, Goodell met with the director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving the night before Wednesday's owners meetings in the Dallas area.

The commissioner said those meetings would have happened even without the death of Dallas practice squad linebacker Jerry Brown, who was killed when police say Cowboys defensive tackle Josh Brent was speeding and flipped his vehicle early Saturday in Irving.

"It's a constant dialogue," Goodell said.

Brown died exactly a week after Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher fatally shot his girlfriend before driving to the team complex and shooting himself in front of his coach and general manager. Both deaths were the day before games.

The deaths were the latest difficulties in a year that included the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal and a lengthy labor negotiation with the game officials that led to three weeks of increasingly chaotic games involving replacements.

"Anything that brings a negative light, whether it's bounties or whether it's the tragic circumstances we've seen over the last two weeks, that's not good stuff for the league," Goodell said. "We have to work hard to make sure we avoid those situations and represent the NFL the way our fans expect us to do it."

Goodell said the NFL wants to increase the penalties for first and second offenses in drunken-driving cases, and Brown's death has brought new scrutiny to a safe-ride program. The union says the program works, but one player representative, Jacksonville's Rashean Mathis, has said players don't use it because they're concerned about confidentiality.

"If somebody has a better idea, they need to tell us," Jaguars owner Shahid Khan said.

Meanwhile, Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay said Wednesday the NFL's competition committee will consider the idea of eliminating kickoffs this offseason.

It remains to be seen whether those discussions will be any more productive than they were when the league moved kickoffs up to the 35-yard line before the 2011 season.

"We just moved the kickoff 5 yards to reduce kickoff returns, but it was because we really couldn't come up with a better way where we knew we could move the needle on the injury number and on the concussion number," said McKay, the committee's chairman. "That doesn't mean somebody won't have a more creative way to deal with it in the evolution of it."

Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano already has one. He has suggested giving the team that normally would kick off the option of punting from its 30 or going for a first down on fourth-and-15. Goodell has called Schiano's idea "interesting."

While he coached at Rutgers, Schiano witnessed one of his players, Eric LeGrand, get paralyzed on a kickoff in 2010.

McKay said the increase in touchbacks under the new rule would be secondary to safety concerns.

"I have no question that when we get to the offseason that idea will be fully vetted," McKay said. "When we talk about the kickoff play, one thing we try to do a good job of as a membership is letting the data and the tape, meaning the way the game is played, drive the decision as opposed to the emotion of the moment."

Owners on Wednesday also got a demonstration of new thigh pads that will be mandatory again next season. The NFL quit mandating thigh pads in 1995 because players complained about the quality and were resisting their use. The league estimates only 30 percent of today's players wear thigh pads.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.