In an attempt to increase their profits and grow the game, the NFL has recently explored moving from a 16-game season to an 18-game season. One way it has been envisioned working is to have players take part in 16 games, with a minimum 2 game rest. Potentially, Quarterbacks would be exempt from this so that teams aren’t severely weakened for 2 games.
Aside from increased profits, which could then be passed on to the teams and players, there are limited advantages. A handful of teams would stay in the playoff hunt longer each season. More players would have opportunities to play and develop earlier in their careers. But ultimately, there are too many drawbacks for it to be a good idea.
Having an additional 2 games would mean the NFL could bring in more money over the course of the season. TV deals, advertising, tickets and merchandise would all increase. While that would need to be used to pay the additional players needed, or for bigger contracts, it would also allow the NFL to grow the game domestically and internationally.
Moreover, with 18 games, teams could have longer relevance each season. This would keep a greater number of fans engaged, and could also mean teams that go on a run later in the season provide more competitive playoffs. However, it could also mean that mediocre teams continue to draw attention. Prolonging the inevitable does more harm than good.
Impact on Players
The biggest issue facing an 18-game season is how players will be impacted. While if they are limited to playing 16 games, there is no increased chance of injury, and players could use the extra few weeks to recover. But if the best players aren’t on the field, it may put others in difficult positions.
Hypothetically, let’s imagine a backup Offensive Lineman being a starter for a game while the actual starter has to sit out a rest game. Also imagine they are facing one of the top pass rushers, such as Von Miller, Khalil Mack, Joey Bosa, or JJ Watt. That team’s Quarterback is potentially being put at risk of taking bigger hits, or more hits overall.
Similarly, backups at other positions would result in mismatches across the field. Teams would struggle to move the ball as their 6th best Wide Receiver goes against a top Cornerback. A team’s 5th best Cornerback has to close down one of the best receivers in the league, and the Defense becomes exposed repeatedly. While these are exaggerations, it’s not hard to imagine these situations occurring. The NFL would potentially have less interesting and competitive games, while simultaneously putting players at risk.
To overcome issues of competitiveness and fielding a team for an extra few games, rosters would need to expand. Although not by a large number, this would cause a few problems. Players that currently wouldn’t make a roster would be kept on, again bringing down the quality of talent in the league.
Additionally, teams would need greater depth at all positions. While that would be a coaching issue, it could simultaneously devalue and increase the value of different positions. If backups, or even a WR2 or WR3, have to step up more often, teams may choose to pay the superstars less. Why would they pay top money to someone who is doing proportionally less for the team? On the other hand, backup OL could get paid better if their role expands.
While the league may make more money by having additional games, and that money gets passed on to resolve these issues, it’s hard to see it smoothing everything over. The top-end players would lose some money, as the gap between them and the next tier of players is lessened. The lower-level players would get an increase, as well as more opportunities, and would be open to this solution. But it’s unlikely all players agree to it, unless the increased profits make up the difference.
The final drawback to the plan is how teams’ schedules and strategy align. Teams could choose to try and win games early in the season to build up a buffer, allowing them to rest players in the final few weeks once they’ve locked up a playoff spot. Or, they could sacrifice early season games with backups to then play a normal season. They could choose to field entire backup rosters against “weaker” teams. Divisional games would mean more, and their timing in the schedule would impact strategy.
How teams approach having to rest players is likely to result in less competitive games, which the NFL would want to avoid. The schedules would have to follow a consistent structure so that no team is advantaged or disadvantaged. Between how the schedules are arranged, and how teams approach resting players, the NFL is opening themselves up to lower quality games.
An 18-game schedule sounds nice at first when you think you’re getting more football. But we already have a few games each season that struggle to produce high quality. If we really get a worse product for a few games of the season, is it worth it?