It’s Friday, which means it’s time for another roundtable! With all the talk about an 18-game NFL season swirling around, this week we’re offering up changes we would make to the current format of the NFL schedule.
ADD A GAME AND A BYE WEEK
I’m keen on the idea of a 19-week season with 17 games and two bye weeks for each team. The preseason could be cut down to two games, with teams focusing more on joint practices, and the 17th game would be played at any number of neutral sites. The NFL could play regularly in London, Mexico City or other international markets like Berlin or Toronto without asking teams to give up home games. And there are tons of exciting, sellable domestic possibilities depending on the schedule, like having Steelers-Eagles at Beaver Stadium in State College, Penn., every four years. With some creativity, the second bye week could be used to prevent any team from doing the hated Sunday-Thursday turnaround. The players have, understandably, taken a hard-line stance against adding games, so maybe this is a non-starter. But the prospect of adding revenue would be so enticing to owners that the players could push for big things that really matter to them in return, such as larger revenue share, fewer years until reaching unrestricted free agency or using the bigger revenue pot for lifetime health care. — Jenny Vrentas
NO DIVISIONAL GAMES IN WEEK 1
For some reason the NFL is threatening to screw up a good thing when it comes to the 17-week, one-bye schedule. I want to make clear that I am resistant to any change whatsoever to that format. But if I can tweak something within the schedule it would be this: teams cannot play a divisional game in Week 1. I may even go as far as saying teams must play the season opener against an opponent outside their conference. Divisional games mean more, and that’s evidenced by the league backloading the schedules with division matchups in December. Let two teams who know little about each other work out their Week 1 kinks together and save the better matchups for later in the season. — Jonathan Jones
PLAY THREE PRESEASON GAMES
Eliminate one of the preseason games. Coaches already know who will win 90% of the roster spots—if not more—before camp starts. Getting rid of a preseason game would do away with a week of training camp, which is one more week you don’t have to worry about your favorite players getting hurt. Eventually, if the players have their way, the NFL might consider dropping two of the four exhibitions, but let’s start with one and see how it goes. — Robert Klemko
PLAY 18 REGULAR SEASON GAMES
I'm actually not opposed to the 18-game schedule which allows players to play in only 16 games. Sure, no professional sports league has ever attempted a proposal like this, and sure, there's an argument to made about charging the same price for a Patriots game with Tom Brady as one without. But players get injured all the time, and that same argument doesn’t apply. This schedule would add a new layer in the already incredibly strategic game of football.
Requiring players to sit two games isn't all that crazy. Think about it: With injuries and suspensions, many NFL players aren’t available for all 16 games in the current schedule. Also, deciding when to sit certain players introduces a new challenge for coaches. Would the whole league conspire to bench their starters for the first two regular season games and use them almost like preseason games? (In this schedule, there are only two preseason games.) Quarterback quality is the biggest threat to this schedule—do you dare play your starting quarterback with your backup left tackle or any backup offensive linemen for that matter? Probably not. Roster size would increase, and some teams might decide to stock up on offensive linemen, or build a stable of pass rushers. Coaches could use the two benched games to help a player recover from a minor injury that they would have had to play through the next Sunday. And just think of all the incredible underdog feats that would rise from this schedule when third-string guys get a shot to play in games that matter. — Kalyn Kahler
SHIFT TO FOUR EIGHT-TEAM DIVISIONS, AND PLAY EVERY DIVISIONAL OPPONENT JUST ONCE
Currently, each NFL team plays 12 of its 16 games against conference opponents, but three of those games are against divisional opponents they play twice—really, each team only gets to play against nine different teams in its conference. I suggest shifting the divisional breakdown and creating four eight-team divisions with two divisions per conference. The breakdown of games would look like this: the number of total games would remain at 16, but each team would play seven divisional games, five games against non-divisional conference opponents and four games against non-conference opponents.
This setup would allow each NFL team to play 12 different conference opponents, forcing teams to have to do better against the entire conference, not just against the division. And by only playing each divisional team once, it decreases the importance placed on divisional games and reduces the ability to beat up on weaker teams. Right now teams don’t care about winning divisions, so reducing the number of divisions—and therefore reducing the number of titles—might shift that mentality as well.
INCREASE THE NUMBER OF GAMES AT NEUTRAL SITES
I’ll be realistic about this. Those fat cats in Washington will never go for my foolproof plan to eliminate the wild-card games, expand by four teams and build an equitable 16-game schedule for all, no matter how perfect it is. And they won’t back off Thursday Night Football—to paraphrase B.O.B., they’ve created a monster but nobody wants to kill it.
So build an 18-week schedule, 16 games per team, with: seven true home games, seven true away games, one neutral site “home” game, one neutral site “away” game (both neutral site games inter-conference). Thursday Night Football features only teams coming off a bye week, and always on a neutral field.
About those neutral field games: Each team gets to select where their neutral site “home” game is played each year. The Giants can host a game at Yankee Stadium, the Eagles can have a Carson Wentz homecoming at the Fargodome, the Seahawks can do the same for Russell Wilson at Camp Randall Stadium which will have the added bonus of stopping NC State from claiming him, the Broncos on the blue turf in Boise, the Chiefs in Lincoln, Neb., the Lions at The Big House. The Patriots can play at Fenway or, y’know, Hartford maybe (just think about it, guys).
And as for accommodating the 18-week regular season? Take the Super Bowl bye week and shove it. — Gary Gramling
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