NEW YORK -- The NFL will play a full 16-game schedule this season, making up last week's missed games in the first week of January.
And while it may still reduce the number of playoff teams from 12 to eight, commissioner Paul Tagliabue said Tuesday that full playoffs are still a possibility.
Tagliabue said the league's competition committee had voted unanimously to keep the 16-game format, switching the games called off last weekend to the weekend of Jan. 5-7, when wild-card games had been scheduled.
But he said the committee is still looking at ways to keep the normal complement of 12 playoff teams rather than eight. That would mean three division winners and three wild-card teams in each conference would make the playoffs rather than the three winners and just one wild card.
''This would be the best of both worlds. If they can keep the 16-game schedule and the six wild cards, then everybody's happy. It's just back to business,'' said coach Mike Sherman of Green Bay, one of many teams whose playoff chances would be hurt badly if the NFL cut back on wild cards.
''I'll be curious to see what follows after this,'' added Andy Reid of Philadelphia, another team that might be affected. ''I'd hate to disrupt the playoffs in that situation. ... I'm sure they'll come up with an answer for it. They understand the importance of the playoffs.''
When the teams return, they are likely to have the regular officials back.
NFL sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the executive committee of the NFL Referees Association was voting by e-mail on a proposal by the league that would end the lockout that lasted through the final game of preseason and the first game of the regular season. If it is approved by noon EDT Wednesday, the regular officials will be back for Sunday's games.
As for the playoffs, Tagliabue said:
''We continue to work on keeping six division winners, six wild cards and our entire postseason format intact. Several options have been presented to us in recent days that would help us accomplish that. If we cannot resolve our entire postseason lineup in a satisfactory fashion, we then will go to a system of six division winners and two wild-card teams for this one season only.''
One option would be to move the Super Bowl, to be played in New Orleans, from Jan. 27 to Feb. 3. There is only a one-week break this year after the championship games.
One way to do that would be to switch the Super Bowl and the National Auto Dealers Convention, scheduled for the next week. The Pro Bowl, scheduled for Feb. 4, would either be moved back a week or played as scheduled without players from Super Bowl teams.
Another option would be to schedule most of the potential playoff teams for Saturday, Jan. 5, then play the wild-card games on Wednesday Jan. 9. The next round would be played Jan. 13-14 with the championship games as scheduled on Jan. 20 -- most likely with four exhausted teams.
A third would be to play the title games on Super Bowl Sunday, Jan. 27, as a doubleheader at the Superdome. The Super Bowl would be played the next week at another site with New Orleans promised another game in the future.
The 16-game season appeared to be a certainty soon after Tagliabue announced last Thursday that last week's games were off because of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.
One reason is financial. If the league had played 15 games, 15 teams would have played seven home games instead of eight, missing out on one lucrative gate. And the league would owe the networks $40 million- $60 million for the wild-card games that would not be played if the alternate scenarios don't work out.
Another was practical. San Diego was scheduled off last week. So the Chargers would have ended the season having played 16 games while the others would have played 15.
And a third seemed to be that most players and coaches wanted a full schedule.
But the players and coaches also wanted a full playoff schedule. If options can't be worked out, however, they won't get that.
''Fewer playoff teams is basically going to take the playoffs out of a lot of teams' reach,'' said Wayne Gandy of Pittsburgh, which must play in the AFC Central with Baltimore, Tennessee and Jacksonville.
''By December, maybe even November, guys are going to get down on themselves because they're going to realize only four teams are going to make the playoffs and, in the AFC, there are a lot of good teams. It's going to be a challenge for everybody.''
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