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Goodell looks to add game incentives

Times Staff Writer

PHOENIX -- Coasting could be costly.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Friday the league is looking into ways to create incentives for teams to play hard through the end of the regular season, even if they have already secured a playoff berth.

“The incentive should be for every team to win as many games as possible,” Goodell said in his annual state-of-the-league address. “We owe that to our fans.”

The league is looking at seeding teams differently after they qualify for the playoffs, something that would increase the number of meaningful games. Goodell said there were nine games in the last two weeks of the season in which at least one of the team’s postseason seeding would not be impacted.

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“We think that by looking at our seeding process that we could have affected three of those nine games and made those have meaning,” he said. “In fact, it could have affected two playoff games this year. The Pittsburgh game could have potentially been in Jacksonville, and I think the Tampa-Giants game, potentially, could have been in New York.”

Goodell said the New England Patriots’ and New York Giants’ regular-season finale, in which neither team’s playoff seeding was at stake and yet each played hard, “was one of the proudest moments I had in the 2007 season.”

The Patriots have a chance to make history in Super Bowl XLII.

Mike Carey’s piece of history is already guaranteed.

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Carey, an 18-year NFL official from San Diego, will be the first African-American referee in Super Bowl history.

“To me it means another step in the road to social evolution for American accepting anybody because of their race, creed or color, or sexual persuasion for that matter,” Carey told a group of reporters Friday in a rare interview. “Being on this type of a big stage, it’s a great opportunity for some child of any race, gender, spiritual background to look up and say, ‘I can do that too,’ whether it’s a player, coach, political leader.”

Super Bowl officials are chosen on merit, with the highest graded at each position earning the assignment. Carey has been an alternate for previous Super Bowls, but never the crew chief.

There were 17 black officials on 17 crews this season, an all-time high. Carey, a former Santa Clara running back, is the brother of Don Carey, also an NFL official.

Giants receiver Plaxico Burress stretched and ran a few pass routes during individual drills on Friday but, for the third consecutive day, was unable to practice with his team.

Burress has battled an injured right ankle and swelling in his left knee for much of the season.

“He ran a couple of slants,” Coach Tom Coughlin told a pool reporter. “He took a play in the green zone and that was about all he did.”

At a news conference earlier in the day, Coughlin reminded the media that on several occasions during the season Burress was able to play in games despite missing practice the week before.

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Burress is officially listed as questionable for Sunday’s game against the Patriots.

Defensive end Osi Umenyiora, who skipped the 80-minute practice with a sore thigh, is probable, as are cornerback Kevin Dockery and offensive guard Rich Seubert.

Seventeen finalists have a chance to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame today, among them former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

The others are defensive back Darrell Green and receivers Cris Carter,

Art Monk and Andre Reed; offensive linemen Russ Grimm, Bob Kuechenberg, Randall McDaniel and Gary Zimmerman; defensive ends Fred Dean and Richard Dent; linebackers Randy Gradishar, Derrick Thomas and Andre Tippett; punter Ray Guy; and senior-committee nominees Marshall Goldberg and Emmitt Thomas.

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sam.farmer@latimes.com

david.wharton@latimes.com

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