NFL's New Plan Changes Urgency

The NFL's tentative agreement to push the Super Bowl back takes away a little of the urgency of this week's game with the Saints, as it now appears that six NFC teams and not four will make the playoffs.

It looked early on as though the Vikings would be playing most of the 2001 season with their backs against the wall after limping to an 0-2 start. But, as the NFL nears an agreement with national auto dealers to move their convention up a week to make hotel space available to the league to retain the full playoff schedule, Sunday's game, while still important, doesn't have the same do-or-die implications it appeared to have a week ago.

Under the scenario that had been looked at, only three division winners and one wild card would have qualified for the playoffs. While the Vikings are still confident that they can make the playoffs, teams like the Giants and Eagles appear to have a much softer schedule with six games each against the Redskins, Cardinals and Cowboys -- perhaps the three worst teams in the NFL.

By allowing three wild card teams -- if the plan is adopted and the tentative agreement becomes final -- adding two additional wild cards would greatly enhance the Vikings' chances of making the postseason, even with a pair of conference losses to start the season.

A final decision on approval of moving the Super Bowl back one week is expected later this week or early next week.

* The Trade Center attacks have affected the NFL in more than just having to juggle its regular season and postseason schedule. Because Major League Baseball had to move its playoffs and regular season back one week, it has affected the NFL, too. The Raiders and Cowboys were supposed to have this week off (along with Indianapolis) in their scheduled bye weeks. But, because of potential stadium conflicts with the Oakland A's, the Raiders-Cowboys game scheduled for Oct. 21 will be played Sunday instead. The result will be five teams -- Oakland, Dallas, Miami, San Francisco and Seattle -- having bye weeks in what is now Week 6.
* Byron Chamberlain leads the team in both receptions (16) and yards (221) -- a sign that if teams are going to continue to double Randy Moss and Cris Carter, players like Chamberlain, Jim Kleinsasser and Michael Bennett will continue to be receiving threats.
* The Saints have a couple of serious injuries that will be revealed today when the injury report is released. Tight end Cam Cleeland has a hamstring injury and guard Chris Naoele dislocated the middle finger on his left hand last Sunday. As a result, both will be listed as questionable. Cleeland may be forced to miss the game if he doesn't respond well to treatment, while Naoele may also miss the game if he can't wear a protective device to help his injured hand.

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