NFL season ends with a form of cosmic 'justice,' but what lies ahead?

Seahawks' Super Bowl heartbreak is similar to that felt by NFC title-game foe Green Bay and others in playoffs

Once they can finally stomach going back and looking at Super Bowl XLIX, the despondent Seattle Seahawks might take a bit of comfort in this:

Their loss to New England was written in the stars.

Turns out, the NFC side of the postseason consisted of one team ripping the heart out of another, then succumbing to the same fate. Like a fish getting eaten by a bigger fish, which is then eaten by an even bigger fish.

Consider:

Detroit lost to Dallas, with a pivotal play being a pass-interference flag on the Cowboys that was picked up.

Dallas then lost to Green Bay, with the key moment being a catch by Dez Bryant that was overturned.

Green Bay lost to Seattle in overtime, after the Seahawks pulled off a fake field goal for a touchdown, a successful onside kick, and a two-point conversion that should have been knocked down or intercepted.

And the Seahawks blew it in the final minute of the Super Bowl, getting too cute inside the one-yard line by trying to pass instead of letting Marshawn Lynch pound in for a touchdown.

So even though the Seahawks and their fans will spend the off-season writhing over what might have been, theirs was just the final shell in the NFL's nesting dolls of misery.

Ten other topics that will be important to the NFL and/or its fans this off-season:

Relocation

Los Angeles will be a focal point in the coming months, with St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke inching closer to getting the necessary entitlements for his proposed 80,000-seat stadium in Inglewood, and the San Diego Chargers mulling countermoves to try to block a team — the Rams or the Oakland Raiders — from moving into the L.A. market.

If the Chargers can't block a move, they might try to beat the Rams to L.A. The best chance for the Raiders is to be the second team into a stadium, as opposed to building one on their own.

Jameis Winston

The selection of this controversial Florida State quarterback at the top of the draft would be a public-relations issue any year, but especially coming off such a turbulent season for the NFL in light of its handling of the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson situations.

Winston is supremely talented and is potentially the No. 1 pick, yet his judgment is highly dubious. He was accused (though never charged) of sexual assault, arrested for shoplifting crab legs, and suspended for standing on a table in his school's student union and screaming obscenities.

It's safe to expect the league will go to some lengths to let Winston know that he's coming into the pros with at least one strike and probably more. He'll almost surely be invited to Chicago for the draft, but his past will have some team holding its breath and crossing its fingers as it turns in his name.

NFL draft

For the first time since 1965, the draft will be held outside of New York. The league selected Chicago over the other finalist city, Los Angeles, and signed a one-year agreement to stage the off-season's biggest event in the Windy City. If a team relocates to Southern California for the 2016 season, the draft likely will be moved to L.A. for a ramp-up to the NFL's return.

The draft marries two of America's most popular passions — college football and pro football — and set broadcast records in 2014, including 32 million viewers for the first round, a 28% bump from the previous year.

To capitalize, the NFL has even mulled turning the draft into a seven-day event, with the buildup of a mini-Super Bowl. We aren't there yet, but don't be surprised if the league tries to further take advantage of the robust interest in the draft.

What is reviewable

This didn't get off the ground last year, but the competition committee is likely to take another look at the range of plays subject to instant replay. There is plenty of sentiment that calls such as blows to the head and pass interference should be reviewable, especially when so many games hinge on one or two plays. That would not include contesting a call that wasn't made, but if a flag is thrown a coach should have the opportunity to challenge it, risking a timeout by doing so.

Expanded playoffs

An expanded playoff field appeared to be a foregone conclusion, with one more team per conference qualifying and only the No. 1 seed getting a first-round bye.

But Commissioner Roger Goodell hedged on that during his pre-Super Bowl state-of-the-league address, saying: "There are positives to it, but there are concerns as well, among them being the risk of diluting our regular season and conflicting with college football in January."

From a competitive standpoint, no teams are pushing to expand the field. It largely comes down to an economic decision: How much more money can the league make by staging two more playoff games? Is it worth diluting the postseason field, and potentially taking a bit of the luster off the playoffs?

If the networks say they desperately want more postseason games, that will carry weight.

Peyton Manning

Will the NFL's only five-time most valuable player come back for an 18th year? We should know soon enough. He has two non-guaranteed years left on his deal with Denver at $19 million each, and he needs to pass a physical examination sometime between Feb. 23 and March 15.

A season that began with such promise for Manning ended with a thud, a divisional playoff loss at home to Indianapolis in which he played particularly poorly. He's so competitive, it's hard to imagine him hanging it up on that note.

Should Manning come back — and that's what most insiders expect — it will be interesting to see how he meshes with new Broncos Coach Gary Kubiak, who likes more running than passing in his offenses, and isn't especially fond of quarterbacks changing plays at the line of scrimmage.

Johnny Manziel

What does the future hold for the talented but troubled Cleveland Browns quarterback who was a rock star before he took his first NFL snap? Manziel, a renowned partyer, voluntarily entered rehab last week. The Browns reportedly are anticipating he'll be back for training camp but aren't putting any timetables on his recovery.

Thursday night games

The league needs to take a look at these games, which early in the season were routinely non-competitive. Teams had problems making the four-day turnaround, especially when they had to hit the road, and through early November the average margin of victory was three touchdowns.

A possible fix could be scheduling a team's week off before one of those games, but most players wouldn't want that. Why? Because they already look at the week following a Thursday game as a mini-bye, so a lot of them would rather spread out those breaks over the course of the season.

This season's midweek blowouts might have been an anomaly, but there's no question they got the attention of the league and the networks.

Dr. Know

In the coming weeks, the league will hire a medical czar, someone with the credentials to be a singular voice on health issues. It could be a retired surgeon general or the like who can articulate the NFL's position on concussion protocol or the handling of other injuries. The league has put a big emphasis on health and safety in recent years, and it needs someone at the top who can coordinate its programs and speak authoritatively on its policies.

Deflate-gate

Had it not involved the New England Patriots and their history of pushing the ethical envelope, and under the magnifying glass of the Super Bowl, the saga about deflated footballs would have been a one- or two-day story. Now, the NFL's investigation could drag on for months.

Regardless of how the Patriots are penalized, if they are, the NFL will take a long look at how game balls are handled and how to better track the chain of custody. It wouldn't be surprising if the league has officials deal with the footballs, as opposed to putting them in the hands of the teams.

sam.farmer@latimes.com

Twitter: @LATimesfarmer

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