There have been whispers as loud as snare drums that the NFL wants to expand the schedule for as long as I can remember. Last year's collective bargaining agreement (CBA) made a change all but inevitable, and today that inevitability is a reality as the NFL has officially announced the addition of a 17th game to the regular season.
We all knew this was coming, but it doesn't make it any less weird. The NFL has had a 16 game schedule since 1978, back when the NFL instituted the Mel Blount rule. I know lots of us stink at year-math, but that's over 40 years of 16 game regular seasons! It's all multiple generations of football fans have known. Roger Staubach's Cowboys were Super Bowl champs the final season of 14 games in 1977. Every season except 1982 and 1987 (strike-shortened years) played 16 games per team. For many, NFL record math has become second nature, so 6-11, 9-8, or 13-4 will take some getting used to for sure. Finishing .500 is now almost impossible. Millions of Twitter comedians just had to delete their entire Jeff Fisher file.
Teams will still play 20 games, just now, with three preseason games instead of the usual four. Unless you're a bottom of the roster guy fighting for a job, I think we can all agree this aspect of the change is favorable. I do not give a fuuuuck about the preseason. The last time I truly did was 2015 when Tim Tebow was fighting to make the Eagles, and damnit he played well enough that August to make a roster! Obviously, the preseason matters for evaluating talent, installing plays, and all that good stuff, but I've simulated the preseason in every Madden franchise I've ever played. The 4th preseason game will not be missed!
All teams will play 10 "home" games and 10 "away" games but rotate the 8-2 and 9-1 regular vs. preseason split based on conference. In 2021 AFC teams will play nine regular-season "home" games. I love how the new 17th regular-season game is an inter-conference matchup against a team that finished in the same spot in their respective division. As long as teams are finishing the regular season against their division, I'm all for this. It will give more markets more opportunities to see players and teams from the opposing conference. Aaron Rodgers has played once at Gillette Stadium. Tom Brady didn't play in San Francisco until 2016. We'll have a chance to see great inter-conference rivalries like Steelers vs. Cowboys and Jets vs. Giants more often than every four years.
As part of the new agreement, all teams will play at least one international game every eight years.
Like all things in life, there are pros and cons to this change. Depending on who you are, more football is a pro; I love the NFL. I'll gladly take another week of action to watch and gamble on (another week of #TooManyLegs!), but I do feel bad for the players. So much for player safety! In the long run, they'll make more money, but this season contracts are just going to be paid over 18 weeks instead of 17. That sucks, especially when every deal in the league except like Tom Brady and Kirk Cousins isn't fully guaranteed. Plus, there's still only one bye-week in the regular season, and with playoff expansion, only one team receives a first-round bye. I at least hope we see bye weeks spaced out better now, but knowing the NFL, they'll probably start earlier, especially with Amazon in the mix. Hell, we may see zero bye weeks if Bezos has any say. Nobody should have a bye before like, week 7 with the extra game. Imagine going 14-3 with a bye week in week 4 and having to play in the Wild Card round? That seems like bull shit to me.
Of course, this makes the dream of a Super Bowl played during President's Day Weekend more of a reality. I feel like we're going to see either a 2nd bye week or 18th game added (maybe both!) relatively soon, even though the current CBA runs until 2030 and currently says the league can not expand the regular season beyond 17 games during the life of the deal.
We will see an 18 game schedule. There is no way on earth the NFL just has an odd number of regular season games. Maybe the next schedule expansion doesn't happen until 2031, but like Dirty Mike and The Boys having sex in a Prius, it will happen again.
Lastly, I know records aren't as revered in the NFL as they are in baseball, but with an extra game and every rule except the fumble through end zone rule favoring the offense, I feel like we're going to see monster numbers going forward. 2,000 yard seasons for a pass catcher will happen as often as the Olympics. Michael Strahan's fake sack record is as good as gone. Drew Brees will no longer be the only QB with multiple 5,000-yard seasons by 2024. This also means the New England Patriots are officially the only team to finish 16-0. If they couldn't seal the deal for 19-0, I doubt we'll ever see 20-0, although it would be much more satisfying from an optics standpoint. I love a round number.
Speaking of Michael Strahan, how are you gonna ditch team gap like this???? Yeah, I have Smile Direct Club molds collecting dust in my room because they hurt, and maybe deep down, I'm scared of not having the crutch of having a shitty smile for why I am incapable of finding love, but you were the face of the piano key teeth community. What a disappointment/likely early April Fools Day Joke, even though I 100% get it and would've done this 25 years ago if I were you.