WR Keyshawn Johnson doesn't plan to worry about the Wild Card scenarios until his team is forced into them, if ever
Not enough time for the NFL playoffs? No problem. Inequitable tie-breaker scenarios? No problem? Maintaining fan interest across the league's cities? No problem.
Tony Dungy, head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers has the solution to the NFL's current playoff scheduling conundrum, and it's simple as it is radical.
Send postseason invites to everyone.
By insisting that its postponed games from last week get played on the first weekend in January, the National Football League has forced itself to either excise a round of playoffs or come up with some unusual rescheduling plan. The alternative was an unattractive 15-game season with one team (San Diego) playing 16 games and unfair tie-breaking scenarios sure to crop up.
Dungy's plan – which, we must admit, appeared to be offered with the tip of his tongue in cheek – would avoid all of these issues.
"My thought is to make it like the state high school basketball tournament – let everybody in," he said. "Just play 12 or 13 games for seeds, then let everybody in and play down until you get a champion. Play it down to two and that's your Super Bowl."
Dungy doesn't plan to send his idea to the league, sure they won't go for it. And with a 12-game season as its starting point, he's probably right. There's also the issue of that pesky 31st team, which would require an extra play-in game. Still, you can't blame Dungy for 'thinking outside the box.'
In reality, Dungy and his crew are starting with the idea that there will be only one Wild Card team in each division and setting their sights, as always, on the NFC Central title and a sure bid. If an alternate plan is worked out to keep the extra Wild Card berths, it will be considered a bonus at One Buccaneer Place.
"Whatever they come up, we'll be ready to go," said Dungy, who isn't daunted by the 15 straight weeks the Bucs will play, beginning with the Minnesota game on September 30. "Not really, because we used to do that all the time. That was standard procedure for a long time. You played 16 weeks. If you played well enough, you got a (playoff) bye; if you didn't, you had to keep playing."
The Buccaneers got off on the right foot in Week One, winning at Dallas, 10-6. Tampa Bay shares the very, very early division lead with 1-0 Green Bay, and until it's out of first place, there won't be any Wild Card discussion at One Buc.
"Right now, we're not a Wild Card team, so I'm not concerned with it," said wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson. "When that time comes, then I'll worry about it."
The man who feeds Johnson the ball on Sundays, quarterback Brad Johnson, has an even narrower focus.
"We have to take care of Minnesota next week – that's the most important thing," he said. "Playoffs are in January and we'll deal with that when it comes. Whatever decision they make, we'll deal with it and move on."
On the Mend
The Buccaneers' current down time is so long that there are rumors of impending layoffs in the team's training room. At the rate Tampa Bay's dinged-up players are healing, Lee Roy Selmon might be back for the Minnesota game.
Actually, the Bucs could use one more lineman, because substitute defensive tackle James Cannida is likely to be the only player not ready for action by the time the team takes the field in Minnesota. Cannida suffered an MCL sprain in his left knee during the team's August 31 preseason finale in Atlanta, an injury similar to the ones previously suffered by punter Mark Royals and center Jeff Christy. Both Royals and Christy took about a month to heal, though Cannida's sprain might need up to six weeks of recovery.
Meanwhile, the team's other significantly injured players – Christy, cornerback Dwight Smith, guard Russ Hochstein, safety Dexter Jackson and wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson – currently range from 'fully back in practice' to 'should be ready soon.'
Christy and Johnson fall in the former group, Hochstein, Smith and Jackson in the latter. Christy rejoined the team in full gear this week while Johnson probably would have played on Sunday had the Philadelphia game gone off as originally scheduled. Instead, he took a little extra time to rest a deep thigh bruise and came back full speed to practice this past week.
Hochstein is finishing up his own month of inactivity due to a foot fracture, the third fracture suffered by the unlucky Nebraska Cornhusker since his arrival in the NFL. A June foot fracture and a July hand fracture have rounded out his summer of hard knocks. He is expected to return to practice on Monday.
The same is true of Smith (mid-foot sprain) and Jackson (hip flexor strain). Smith has already begun taking part in individual drills in practice and has been eager to do more, but the team's still fully-staffed training department has reined him in. Jackson spent Wednesday and Thursday's practices working out on the equipment on the back porch next to the field. Both defensive backs will return to practice on Monday, as well.
"We should be pretty good, with probably James Cannida being the only guy that's not quite ready when we go to Minnesota," said Dungy. "From that standpoint, (the two off weeks) probably came at a good time for us."
Ready for Some Football
Dungy expects the NFL's Sunday games to be very well-received in the 14 hosting cities. Even the Bucs' delayed return in two weeks should be exciting, he believes.
"I think it will be great," said Dungy. "Judging from what I've seen at the baseball games, I think you're going to see people who realize that coming to the ballpark and seeing professional sports is not a given. It's not a right. It's going to make it even that much more special, I think."
Attendance figures for MLB games have been fairly steady, and Dungy thinks the stadium security issue will not play much of a factor in players' or fans' feelings on game day.
"I don't think so," he said. "It's always going to be in your mind, I think, anywhere that you are now. But I don't think it's going to be any different in terms of us playing. From what I saw at the baseball games the last couple of nights, there hasn't been any reason to think that it's going to be any different. Those natural thoughts will go through your mind, but I think guys will be out there participating and they'll be focused on that."