Will the National Football League finally decide to play it again?

The instant replay, defeated in a vote of team owners last October, is whirring again in NFL minds and, this time, is expected to be approved by the league for its 1986 season.

The decision could come as early as this week, when the owners gather for their annual winter meetings in Palm Springs, Calif.

Other topics likely to be discussed this week include Commissioner Pete Rozelle's plans to develop a new drug-testing program; the U.S. Football League's $1.3-billion antitrust suit against the NFL, likely to begin in April; the financial state of the league, and increasing the 45-player roster.

All indications are the replay, an idea that was resurrected by Washington Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs two years ago after its original 28-0 defeat in 1978, eventually will receive enough support to be used in the 1986 preseason. It likely would continue to be used through the regular season and on to the Super Bowl.

The replay, which was tested during the 1985 preseason after receiving the approval of 23 of the 28 NFL teams, once again has the blessing of the league's competition committee, chaired by Dallas Cowboys President Tex Schramm.

Their plan calls for the addition of an extra official to monitor replays on a press box television.

The "replay official" would reverse on-field decisions "only when there's indisputable visual evidence to change the call," Joe Browne, NFL director of communications, said.

Questionable calls involving possession plays, the sidelines, goal lines and end lines would be subject to being overruled by the extra official.

A slight difference between last year's proposal and the new one involves penalties. The old plan did not allow the replay official to call penalties. The new one does. Kind of.

" . . . Easily detectable rules infractions, such as more than 11 men on the field, (would be included)," Browne quoted the proposal as reading.

No other examples of rules violations were included in the proposal, Browne said. Most infractions, including offsides, encroachment, clipping and interference, could not be called by the replay official, according to the proposal, he said.

In October, 16 of the 25 teams present at the New York meeting voted in favor of using replays; 19 votes were needed for passage.

"Some teams thought we hadn't tested the replays enough yet and that we shouldn't use them in the most important games of the year," Redskins General Manager Bobby Beathard said at the time.

The Redskins are strong proponents of the use of the replay.

Using the replay from preseason to the Super Bowl presumably would increase its popularity within the league. If it is not voted on this week, it likely would come up at the league's spring meetings June 4-6 in Kansas City, Mo.

Miami Coach Don Shula, a member of the competition committee, has been pushing the instant replay for more than a year.

"We just want to see what everybody sees at home," he said.

The competition committee's report, scheduled to be delivered Monday at NFL headquarters in the Marriott Rancho Las Palmas, includes several other controversial issues, many of them replays of their own from last winter's meeting.

The owners and team representatives will discuss: a proposal to penalize the home team if crowd noise stops play for five minutes; helmet radios for communication between quarterbacks and receivers, which likely will be used experimentally in the 1986 preseason; a coordinated, league-wide scouting plan, and roster size.

The Cowboys have proposed increasing roster sizes beyond the current 45-man limit, although it's considered unlikely the league will vote to do so this week, if at all.

Last year, roster sizes dropped from 49 to 45 players, causing the Redskins to keep only two quarterbacks.

Some subjects are not quite so serious. The Super Bowl champion Chicago Bears have asked the owners to examine the league's rule against headbands that advertise the name of the manufacturer.

Their request follows quarterback Jim McMahon's stormy path through the playoffs, when he made "Rozelle" headbands famous.

There also are plans to discuss restrictions on the basketball-style sideline huddle, devised by Cincinnati Coach Sam Wyche, and fans' snowball-throwing that disrupts play on the field.

Bears Coach Mike Ditka is expected for a traditional Super Bowl winner's news conference, scheduled for Monday.

Ditka and former assistant Buddy Ryan, who took parting shots at one another after the Super Bowl, are not expected to meet during the week. Ryan, the Philadelphia Eagles' new head coach, said he has to prepare for the team's minicamp this month and cannot attend the meetings.

In another matter, Jack Donlan, executive director of the NFL Management Council, will meet with the council to hear the annual report on team finances.