Head Coach Tony Dungy believes a 15-game season would have too many built-in inequities
When the National Football League elected not to play its game this past weekend, it called the decision a postponement, then began studying the issue of what to do with the remainder of the schedule.
While there are certainly significant side issues to be discussed, the main crux of the debate is whether to find a way to play the postponed games or simply finish out a 15-game season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach Tony Dungy strongly favors the former.
"I think you're going to have to play 16 games because there would be too many inequities otherwise – some teams with more home games, some teams with more division games," he said. "Your tie-breakers would not be fair. I think they should try to get the 16th game in at all costs.
"Now, how to do that, I'm not really sure."
The NFL is expected to announce its plans some time this week. If, as Dungy believes is necessary, the Week Two games are replayed, one possible scenario is an abbreviated playoff schedule with four fewer Wild Card teams in the field.
If that structure is adopted, there would be only one Wild Card team in each conference to go with the three division winners. Under such a plan, the 10-6 Bucs of 2000, the second-ranked of three Wild Card teams, would not have been invited to the postseason dance. The 2001 team would almost certainly have to do better.
"Your approach doesn't change because your number-one goal is to win your division," said Dungy. "That's the only way to be sure you're going to get into the playoffs no matter what. That goal won't change. I think it's just going to put a little more emphasis on things. Guys have to realize that there's not a lot of margin for error."
If the Bucs' postponed game with Philadelphia is added to the back end of the schedule, Tampa Bay could finish the regular season with three consecutive home games. That's not terribly surprising, considering the Bucs' first home game of the 2001 regular season is not until October 7, against Green Bay.
Dungy acknowledged the oddness of that long wait to play in Raymond James Stadium, but can see a scenario in which it is a positive.
"It puts a premium on winning any time, but if we can get two road wins before we come home, that's going to be great," he said.
With the team facing a bye this weekend while most of the NFL gets back to work, the next live action for Tampa Bay won't be until September 30, in Minnesota. That's why the Bucs spent Monday hammering away at their own playbook and working on the special teams units that struggled a bit in Dallas.
"The thing we have to do is think about getting better," said Dungy of how his squad will use this unusual two-week layoff. "We have to use this week to improve as a football team, not necessarily to prepare for an opponent. That's what we're trying to keep in mind, that we're practicing like a training camp and just trying to get better.
"We're not game-planning, we're just running our basic plays and trying to improve our fundamentals. We're just seeing if we can get better and more comfortable as a unit. It's a little unusual. I don't think any of us has ever had 21 days between games during a season. We have to make the best of it."
In effect, it's a two-week bye, which isn't necessarily bad news for the Buccaneers. Since Dungy arrived as head coach in 1996, Tampa Bay has won three of its five post-bye games, including a 1996 win over a then-undefeated Minnesota team.
"Coming out of the bye, you've got to be able to adjust," said Dungy. You've got to be able to stay focused while you're gone, do your job and get back into the routine quickly."