In a move that was deemed a “monumental moment in NFL history” by Commissioner Roger Goodell, the NFL approved a plan for a 17-game regular-season schedule.
Starting in 2021, each of the league’s 32 teams will play 17 regular season games and three preseason games, shifting from a 16-game regular-season schedule that had been intact since 1978.
The plan will also “ensure” that each team will play internationally at least once every eight years, starting in 2022, with the focus “initially on Canada, Europe, Mexico, South America, and the United Kingdom.”
“This is a monumental moment in NFL history,” Goodell said in the league’s press release announcing the news. “The CBA with the players and the recently completed media agreements provide the foundation for us to enhance the quality of the NFL experience for our fans. And one of the benefits of each team playing 17 regular-season games is the ability for us to continue to grow our game around the world.”
The news has obvious benefits for football fans, who will get an extra week of regular-season action to look forward to throughout the schedule.
But, there are loads of positives and negatives for everyone to consider when looking at the overall picture of the league’s new deal.
- A meaningful game gets added, while eliminating the unnecessary risk for starters during a fourth preseason game.
The lack of a preseason in 2020 due to COVID-19 showed its impacts as it relates to the quality of play through the first few weeks of the regular season, but it at least guaranteed that players could prepare for the year without any risk of injury at the hands of an opponent in an exhibition game.
Eliminating a preseason game and replacing it with a regular-season game helps to minimize the risk of that type of injury by 25 percent, and substitutes it for a meaningful, competitive game for players and fans alike to prepare for and enjoy.
- The league adds higher-profile matchups to utilize with flex scheduling for primetime games.
In March, the NFL touted its improved ability to flex games into and out of primetime slots as part of their new TV deals.
The added week of games allows the league to stray from its usual schedule-making formula, and pits teams of equal placement in their respective divisional standings from the year prior against each other.
It almost guarantees the ability to put a high-profile game, like the newly-added Green Bay Packers-Kansas City Chiefs matchup in 2021, in a primetime spot that may have otherwise been occupied by a lackluster game between two teams at the bottom of the NFC East.
- The schedule creates competitive races for the postseason, as teams gain an extra opportunity to stay in the hunt.
It may not seem like there are a lot of benefits for players in a 17-game schedule, but from a competitive standpoint, this type of schedule can help teams in a variety of scenarios.
Slow-starting teams that get into slumps at the start of the schedule have more time to turn things around and slip into a playoff spot towards the end of the year. The same goes for teams impacted by injuries early on, or teams with new head coaches that are implementing new systems and schemes.
Meanwhile, teams in competitive divisions, like the NFC West, AFC East, or AFC North, won’t be punished as much by a loss against a divisional rival, and could still be in the hunt later on in the year if they can bounce back quickly.
In the long run, it’ll give players more chances to compete for top placement in their divisional standings, allow them more opportunities to hit incentives for contracts, and provide fans with more of a reason to keep watching their respective teams later on in the year.
- The league will generate more revenue from a 17th regular-season game, in comparison to a fourth preseason game.
The NFL’s preseason hasn’t exactly been must-see television in recent years, while primetime regular-season games continue to be highly-rated, must-see television on any day of the week that a game lands on.
For the league, adding a 17th game guarantees more regular-season money during the year as it relates to TV deals and stadium attendance, while getting rid of the cost that comes with less-watched, lower-attended preseason action.
- Career longevity could falter, and the league could become a revolving door with loads of turnover.
There’s already a lot of discussion about the average lengths of an NFL’s player’s career, specifically as it relates to running backs. While situations vary throughout the league depending on the player and a position as a whole, one guaranteed risk of the 17-game regular season is the impact on career longevity.
Most starters in the NFL don’t play much, if at all, in the usual four preseason games, with that opportunity generally reserved for players that are on the bubble and looking to earn a spot on a team’s roster for the regular season. Adding the 17th game to the regular season adds at least 60 minutes of action to those starters’ plates, along with an extra week of practice.
Depending on the position, that’s an extra week of absorbing hits, delivering blocks, sprinting at full speed, and, in the case of quarterbacks, that could be 40 more in-game passes to prepare your throwing arm for.
Fans will see players come and go more frequently as a result, and long-term careers like the journeys of Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Larry Fitzgerald and more would likely become rarities in the future.
- Longstanding records will be broken, but validity will be challenged.
Adding an extra game to the schedule gives a quarterback like Patrick Mahomes an upper hand over a retired record-holder like Peyton Manning, a running back like Derrick Henry a leg up over a retired Hall of Famer like Eric Dickerson, and a wide receiver like Stefon Diggs an edge over a retired star like Randy Moss.
Records will be broken, with one more week for players to top previous highs for passing, rushing and receiving yards and touchdowns. With that will come a big debate surrounding the validity of a modern-day record, since those players in the past had to work with a 16-game schedule (or less, in some cases).
For a league that’s so appreciative of its history, the NFL will now have to deal with an era of statistics that are challenged, and an extra game that gets discredited.
- There will be less time for fringe players to make the roster in training camp.
This was a major concern in 2020 when the preseason was eliminated all together, and that fear will continue on as the new three-game preseason format gets underway.
Players will lose out on opportunities to make impressions on head coaches due to a lower amount of in-game reps, and will instead have to learn to showcase their skills more in practices during training camp.
At the same time, you could argue that a lower-level player could now get one more opportunity to shine during the regular season, depending on a team’s situation throughout the 17-game schedule.