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NFL fans can’t be critical of both the preseason and the idea of an 18-game regular season

If you want the NFL to do something about preseason football, it can. But if you don’t like the idea of an 18-game regular season, you won’t like the solution.

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

When I was a little kid in the ‘80s, NFL preseason games were like professional wrestling matches — I basically knew they were both fake, but I still wanted to suspend my disbelief.

I’d watch Steelers’ exhibition games (excuse me, Mr. Commissioner, preseason games) with the same fervor I reserved for the regular season. It didn’t matter that backups, has-beens and never-weres were doing most of the heavy lifting, I was all-in for August football.

In fact, my favorite preseason game of all time was the fourth and final one of the 1988 exhibition campaign, when Chuck Noll played every single one of his A-list superstars — we’re talking Bubby Brister, David Little and the whole lot of them for the entirety of regulation and overtime — in a thrilling victory over the Saints at the Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana.

The win pushed the Steelers’ preseason record to 3-1 which, as it turned out, would represent 60 percent of their actual win-total during the regular season (that probably should have been a clue to the 16-year-old me that NFL preseason action was the exact opposite of NBA action—not fantastic).

By the ‘90s, with the help of age and wisdom — not to mention, the advent of NFL free agency, a salary cap and restrictions on stashing players on IR — I began to realize just how meaningless NFL preseason action really was. It didn’t help that the superstars played less and less, and that the (say it with me) all-important fourth preseason game slowly morphed into the all-important first half of the third preseason game.

Thanks to the very vocal social media, along with the sleepless 24/7 news-cycle, recent summers have been filled with an endless number of voices “exposing” preseason football as a farce. And those exposed seats at stadiums all across the NFL, including those yellow ones at Heinz Field, don’t help either.

People complain about the expense of attending preseason football games (totally true), and what can be done about it. There’s only one thing that can be done about it:

Decrease the preseason by one or two games. After all, with most key starters seeing just limited action, how valuable is preseason football? If you eliminate those two games, you can make up for it by adding an extra week to the training camp schedule, thus allowing the veterans and youngsters to hone their tackling techniques and their route-running skills.

And, to that, I say, “yeah — right.”

Sure, you can eliminate two preseason games, but it will come at the price of two more regular-season games. Say what? You hate that too?

You say the 16-game schedule is perfect as is because you can divide it up into four little quarters of the season? I agree totally but neither of us is an NFL owner, and NFL owners look at things a little differently than we do.

While we see preseason football as the farce that it totally is, NFL owners see preseason football as a way to line their coffers with that all-important revenue. There might be a huge difference between Tevin Jones and Antonio Brown, but August revenue spends just the same as January revenue.

Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones made news recently by suggesting the league adopt an 18-game regular season as a means to shorten the preseason farce — oh, and to cut down on things like concussions to its players — this despite them being exposed to two more games worth of hitting and tackling per year.

That second part is totally ludicrous, right? Of course, it is. But it’s equally ludicrous to think the NFL will ever give up two games’ worth of revenue.

The league has been using a 20-game model since at least the 1960’s, when there were six preseason games, followed by 14 regular season games. Then, in 1978, the current 16-game regular season was implemented, along with a four-game preseason.

That 20-game model ain’t going anywhere, ever. We can cry — we can threaten to boycott stuff — we can cite head injuries until we’re blue in the face but nothing is going to get the owners to move away from a 20-game revenue model.

Therefore, you can either accept the current format of four preseason games — games that aren’t worth much to you beyond an unofficial tax for the right to own season tickets — or you’ll have to eventually accept an 18-game regular season. Either way, the NFL’s 20-game revenue model (and “revenue” is the most important word here) is here to stay.