The NFL is expected to announce that it will wipe out the wild-card round of the playoffs to play week two's 15 postponed games. The immediate shock waves of that plan are that they would reduce the playoff field in each conference to four teams.
Somewhat surprisingly, Jaguars players were accepting of that plan.
"Based on what's happened, it's the best thing. It gives everybody a fair shot. It's the fairest way to go. It just steps up the intensity level," star offensive tackle Tony Boselli said.
The plan to restore the NFL season to its fullest by playing the week-two games on the Jan. 5 wild-card weekend would seem to demand that the Jaguars, or any other team in the AFC Central Division, must win the division title to make the playoffs. The six-team AFC Central is considered to be the strongest and most competitive in the NFL and it's unlikely the AFC's lone wild-card team would come out of the Central.
Jaguars middle linebacker Hardy Nickerson said that, under the four-playoffs-team plan, regular-season division games will become the equivalent of wild-card playoff games. Of course, the Jaguars will be facing their first such "wild-card game" this Sunday when they host the Tennessee Titans.
"That's where the wild-card games are; in your division. You especially can't afford to lose at home," Nickerson said.
Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver had said last Thursday, when the league announced postponement of its week-two games, that he expected the league would not re-schedule those games. Weaver said he expected the league would play a 15-game schedule and maintain six-team playoff fields in each conference.
"That (idea) has been floated, but I'm certainly not in favor of that. That did not get much support," Weaver said of playing the week-two games at the end of the season and reducing the playoff field.
"I do not want to see the playoff format changed at all," coach Tom Coughlin added.
The "15-game" option would've caused serious disadvantages for several teams in the league. For example, Tennessee and Pittsburgh were to have hosted Cincinnati and Cleveland this past Sunday. Baltimore was to have hosted Minnesota, while Jacksonville was to travel to Chicago. Tennessee, Pittsburgh and Baltimore would've played one less home game this season than Jacksonville, Cincinnati and Cleveland. More importantly, Tennessee and Pittsburgh would've lost division home games they would've been expected to win.
"That would be a competitive advantage to those who have eight (home games)," Weaver said of the "15-game" option, which would've left the Jaguars with a full complement of AFC, division and home games (eight).
The lack of an open weekend between this season's conference title games and the Super Bowl had put the NFL in this awkward scheduling position. "You would have to push the Super Bowl back, and that would be impossible at this time," Weaver said.
Reducing the playoff field to four teams per conference is the best option to preserve the competitive integrity of this season. The 1985 Patriots are the only fifth or sixth-seeded playoff team to have made it to the Super Bowl. However, limiting each conference to one wild-card team might result in empty seats in December.
Anything other than the "15-game" or "reduced-playoffs" options would involve massive re-scheduling by the league. "It gets complicated because you may have to change opponents. I would highly doubt we would do something like that," Weaver said of a plan to play 16 games and not reduce the playoff field.
"I would be disappointed," Brunell said of a reduced playoff field. "With Tennessee being one of the top teams in our division, even the second game of the year would be critical to what happens this season."
The Titans come to Alltel Stadium 0-1 and in danger of having their season collapse early. If they lose to the Jaguars, the Titans would be 0-2 for their Oct. 7 game in Baltimore, and the schedule doesn't get any easier, with a home game against Tampa Bay to be followed by trips to Detroit and Pittsburgh.
"We got Tennessee twice and Baltimore twice. Those are the teams we have to beat. It just makes those games that much bigger. They'd (Titans) be behind the eight-ball if we can get a victory against them this week," linebacker Kevin Hardy said.
Vic Ketchman is the Senior Editor of Jaguars Inside Report, the official team newspaper of the Jacksonville Jaguars. One-year subscriptions may be purchased by calling 1-888-846-5247.