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Analyzing the repercussions of the NFL’s proposed 17-game schedule

Ramon Foster is the Steelers NFLPA rep, how do you want him to vote?

Pittsburgh Steelers v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

I have been waiting to write an article about the NFLPA voting on the new CBA, the centerpiece of which is moving to a 17-game schedule. The players were expected to vote last Thursday at an undisclosed location — the strange thing is, there has not been any leaks about the vote. Putting all that speculation aside and even other parts of the CBA — let’s focus on the 17-game schedule and what that might entail and even look like.

Key aspects

  • The NFL would add one more game would be added for each team.
  • The NFL would reduce the number of preseason games; the extent of the reduction is a matter of speculation.
  • The NFL would add another bye week during the season.

One more game for each team looks great on paper for fans, but it also creates one enormous issue; it is an unbalanced schedule. Sixteen teams would get nine home games while the other sixteen would only get eight. Not a big deal, you say? If Baltimore plays nine games at home and the Steelers only play eight and down the stretch Baltimore gets more home games, Pittsburgh fans would cry foul.

If teams can only have eight home games, where does the odd game get played? That is where things can get very interesting.

Reports have London as probably getting a full eight-game schedule. In 2019, games played in London averaged the eighth most fans in attendance of all NFL stadiums. Before you shoot down games played outside of the United States, look at the history. The very first regular-season game played outside of the U.S. was played in 1926 in Toronto. From 1948 until 2005, there were 60 exhibition games or similar games played outside of the country. In 2005, the first modern-day regular-season game was played in Mexico City in front of over 103,000 fans.

Since 2007, at least two regular season games have been played outside of the U.S. each season and 17 played (one was relocated back to Los Angles due to poor field conditions) since 2015. In 2019, the league played a record five regular-season games outside of America with four in London and one in Mexico City.

Could Mexico City see a full eight games? Possibly, but the chatter is not going in that direction. The chatter is some games will be played there while they will play others at neutral venues such as South Bend, Alabama, Hawaii, Canada and possibly many other cities that have sufficiently sized college stadiums.

Think of the Steelers playing the Philadelphia Eagles each year in Beaver Stadium at Penn State with over 106,000 screaming fans. Both fans would love to have an annual rivalry such as this. But would it happen or would the NFL prefer facing off against other teams based on how they finished the previous season? Personally, I would like to see geographical rivalries, but this might not be realistic.

Fans, coaches, and players all have varying reasons for liking or disliking preseason games. The die-hard fans love them while casual fans might catch a highlight or two. Veteran players may fear them because of the risk of injury while the undrafted rookie, out of the University of Nebraska at Kearney, might try to make a name for himself. Coaches like them so they can get to see injured veterans return to action, see how young players handle themselves in live game situations, and get their coaching staff to work together.

I have seen mentioned that the preseason could be cut by one or by two games. If I really had to guess, I would say it would get cut by two.

Adding a second bye week during the season could make things very interesting but also complicated for numerous reasons. Hopefully, the league will look back at 1993 when the league intentionally had two bye weeks. The bye weeks ran from Week 3 through Week 12.

  • When will the bye weeks start and end?
  • Will bye weeks be tied to playing on Thursday nights?
  • Will bye weeks be tied to playing outside of the US?
  • Could a team have two bye weeks in a row or even two out of three weeks they will not play?
  • Will bye weeks help or hurt a team and their momentum?
  • How much influence will television networks have?

The greatest influence on the above aspects would be from the networks. In 1993, the networks took a beating to their ratings. Below is a great quote by Peter King outlining the issue with the networks, keeping in mind there were only 28 teams.

The problem: The double byes are a double disaster. A second bye week was added this season in order to stretch the network TV schedule to 18 weeks. The bonehead result was that there were as few as 10 games per weekend through the first two months of the season, not 14. Fewer games, fewer chances for good games, obviously. Another by-product of the double bye: With so much time off between games, teams fall out of sync. “We beat Minnesota, and we were ready to roll,” says 49er quarterback Young. “Then we had to pick our noses for two weeks before playing Dallas.” The result: Dallas 26, San Francisco 17. The 49ers are 1-3 after bye weeks over the last three years, 30-8 without a week off.

The additional game per team is driven by an expected $1 billion in revenue that will be divided up between owners and players. The players say that the biggest aspect is safety. While this may be true, how the money is split between the two factions is a close second. With this being the biggest item on the owners wish list, will the owners bend on other aspects to ensure this gets done? Hopefully, soon we will have an answer to this and a positive one at that which will avert any kind of work stoppage.


Do you want a 17-game NFL schedule played each season?

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  • 35%
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