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Payton on NFL playoff dilemma

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Dec. 3 2010 10:01 p.m. MST

When Jon Gruden used his platform as an analyst on Monday night football to campaign for restructuring the playoff system if a team with a losing record qualifies, it brought chuckles and guffaws from broadcast partners Mike Tirico and Ron Jaworski.

Was it really so farfetched a premise?

"When the season starts, everyone understands what the parameters are for success and how the seeding is done," says Sean Payton, coach of the Super Bowl champion Saints. "I think the only thing that has been discussed recently is the matter of seeding, as opposed to a division winner. I think the topic has been the way in which the seeds are handed out.

"Again, we still have a third of the season left. There's a lot of discussion about that and I think that all of it sorts itself out."

The NFL long has preferred placing a heavy emphasis on winning the division, believing it keeps interest up in cities where contenders under the current system would be pretenders in an altered setup. Gruden argued that any team with a losing record — the Rams and Seahawks are tied at 5-6 atop the NFC West, and the Colts and Jaguars lead the AFC South at 6-5 — should be replaced in the postseason parade by a winning club from another division that otherwise would be out.

That has little chance to fly, particularly because fans and ticket buyers in St. Louis and Seattle already would have little interest in the playoff race if only overall conference standings mattered. By that standard, the Rams or Seahawks would rank no better than eighth overall.

As for allowing wild-card teams with a better record to host a division winner with a worse mark in the first round of the playoffs, Payton says it's been talked about.

"I don't know if it came to vote as much as it was something that was discussed and tabled," he says. "But it is something that has been looked at. They handed out eight or nine years of information where it would have potentially impacted teams that won a division, but would have played a road game because of it.

"I think it all sorts itself out in the end."

BIG WALT'S MOMENT: Walter Jones turned to Twitter earlier this week, breaking the news of his jersey retirement ceremony before the Seattle Seahawks had the chance.

Not that Jones' No. 71 joining Steve Largent's No. 80 in the rafters of Qwest Field is any surprise.

Jones will be honored at the two-minute warning of the first half Sunday when the Seahawks host Carolina. It's appropriate the likely future Hall of Famer, who became the standard all other left tackles were compared to for nearly a decade, is being honored against the Panthers. Carolina was the team Seattle beat in the NFC championship game five seasons ago to reach its only Super Bowl.

And, just as he was for most of his 13 seasons, Jones was at left tackle that night.

Jones started all 180 games he played in his career. According to coaches and team statistics, he was called for holding just nine times in 5,703 pass attempts and gave up just 23 sacks.

Jones was a nine-time Pro Bowl selection and an All-Pro four times. He announced his retirement in April after not playing since Thanksgiving Day 2008 and undergoing two knee operations.

"It's tough, but I think I'm ready," Jones said back in April.

On the day of his retirement, the Seahawks announced Jones' No. 71 would join Largent's as the only player numbers retired by the franchise. The No. 12 has been retired by Seattle in honor of its fans.

FLIGHT CREW: The New York Jets' wide receivers are spreading their wings with a new nickname and cool T-shirts to match.

Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards and Jerricho Cotchery recently came up with the idea of calling themselves the "Flight Boys." It's not exactly "The T.Ocho Show" that Cincinnati's Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco have going on, but it's certainly, well, catchy enough.

The three got customized white T-shirts made up with three green B-52 bomber-type planes on each and their jersey numbers — Holmes' No. 10, Edwards' 17 and Cotchery's 89 — marking each aircraft.

"It's just something we came up amongst ourselves," Holmes said. "We just try to keep it low key."

Each plane has a specific flight number in honor of their hometowns. Holmes is Flight 561, the area code for Palm Beach County in Florida. Cotchery is Flight 205, which is western Alabama, while Edwards is 313 for Detroit.

Whenever any of the three wide receivers score, they spread their arms out — like airplanes — in the end zone.

"It's the 'Flight Boys' in the building," Holmes said. "That's what it is. It also represents the team and we want to show off a little bit."

Even quarterback Mark Sanchez has gotten in on the act.

"That's great, man, when you can get your quarterback involved in everything that we have going on," Holmes said. "It kind of builds the chemistry among us as receivers and players."

Holmes certainly has that with Sanchez lately with four touchdown catches in his last three games, including one last Thursday night in the Jets' 26-10 win over Cincinnati. He has 32 receptions for 491 yards despite missing the first four games due to a suspension.

Edwards has 35 catches for a team-leading 618 yards and six TDs, while Cotchery — who has missed the last two games with a groin injury — has 29 receptions for 315 yards and two scores.

VOLATILE KICKING MARKET: Clint Stitser was selling real estate in Reno, Nev., when the Bengals called.

No, they weren't looking for a place to move. They needed a kicker.

Stitser kicked at Fresno State and played for Seattle in the preseason. He made his only kick, a 35-yarder, then was waived. For the last three months, he's been working in real estate.

"It's tough, man," said Stitser, who signed Tuesday. "There's a lot of volume, but prices are holding steady. First-time home buyers have been keeping us heavy. Low-interest rates are helping us out."

The kicking market is a lot more volatile. Mike Nugent was Cincinnati's kicker until he tore up his right knee. Aaron Pettrey was working in a Buckeyes store in Columbus, Ohio, when he was signed to take his place. Two weeks later, he was released.

Stitser worked out several days a week and coached kickers at a high school besides selling real estate. He had almost given up on his kicking career when Cincinnati called.

"I've been pretty close," he said. "There's a point of frustration where you're like, 'Is investing five days a week, a few hours a day, really going to create a return for me, or should I move on and focus on other careers?' But I've been passionate about it and I'm young enough to stick with it. And I'm happy I did."

MAGIC MAN: Magic Johnson has designs on the NFL.

The Hall of Fame basketball player and now an entrepreneur is helping a group seeking to bring pro football back to Los Angeles.

Johnson said earlier this week on Jimmy Kimmel's TV show that he is joining the Anschutz Entertainment Group in an attempt to return the NFL to LA. AEG wants to build a stadium in downtown Los Angeles.

In October, Johnson sold his minority share of the Los Angeles Lakers.

Two groups are jockeying for the NFL's favor in LA: AEG and Majestic Realty Company, whose chairman, Ed Roski Jr., is planning a facility in the city of Industry.

One problem: Expansion is not in the NFL's plans. That means relocating an existing franchise to Los Angeles would be the only option, and the league is keen on keeping such teams as the Vikings, Jaguars and Bills where they are.

AP Pro Football Writer Barry Wilner and Sports Writers Dennis Waszak Jr. in New York, Joe Kay in Cincinnati and Tim Booth in Seattle contributed to this report.

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