IRVING -- The Dallas Cowboys still are in playoff contention for the six-team NFC field, but they will need help. In the near future, though, their 7-6 record might be good enough for a team to control its postseason destiny.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday at the league's owners meetings that the competition committee will discuss expanding the playoff field. The current 12-team format has been in existence since 1990.
The league will consider a 14-team or even a 16-team playoff bracket. The latter would mean exactly half the league's teams make the playoffs. Currently, only 37.5 percent of NFL teams make the postseason.
Only 33 percent of Major League Baseball teams qualify for the postseason. In the NBA and NHL, 16 of 30 teams (53.3 percent) advance.
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"It's something that we've discussed in the past," Goodell said. "That is something that we teed up today. We'll probably be looking at it with the committee over the next several months."
NFL disagrees with bounty decision
The NFL accepted Paul Tagliabue's decision in the Saints' bounty program, but league officials made it clear they don't agree with the former commissioner's appeal ruling.
A day after Tagliabue vacated the suspensions of the four players disciplined for the Saints' bounty program, Roger Goodell respectfully disagreed with Tagliabue's contention that the team's coaches and management are mostly to blame.
"My personal view is I hold everyone responsible," Goodell said. "We have to have a personal responsibility here. Player health and safety is an important issue in this league. It's going to take everyone. We're all going to have to contribute to that. ...We all have to be accountable for it.
"So I fundamentally disagree that this is something that lies just with coaches and management. As you know, I took some very significant steps with respect to management and coaches. I do think that's important, and I do think their leadership position needs to be considered. But I also believe these players were in leadership positions also."
Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma had his yearlong suspension vacated, and three other current and former Saints players were given shorter bans by Tagliabue.
Saints coach Sean Payton and former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams remain suspended. Payton received a yearlong ban, and Williams was suspended indefinitely. Assistant Joe Vitt returned after a six-game ban, and general manager Mickey Loomis sat out the first eight games.
The league will require the use of thigh pads and knee pads next season. The NFL stopped mandating thigh pads in 1995 after players' complaints, and the NFL estimates only 30 percent of players use thigh pads now. Nike made a presentation Wednesday.
"They're safer, high performance and actually have a very good look, too," Goodell said.
The NFL will continue looking into eliminating all low blocks, Goodell said.
Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay said the NFL's competition committee will discuss eliminating kickoffs when they begin their off-season meetings. Before the 2011 season, kickoffs were moved from the 30- to the 35-yard line. But Bucs coach Greg Schiano has proposed allowing the kickoff team the option of punting from its own 30-yard line or going for a first down on fourth-and-15 from there.