One more kickoff at Gillette Stadium per year? (Photo by Michael Heiman/Getty Images)
I have struggled with this question, and ultimately decided I am not in favor of expanding the NFL regular season from 16 games to 18. Part of me loves the idea of having more football per season. A Sunday of football is a beautiful thing, and the promise of two more per year is very enticing. So what's not to like?
Part of the question is what type of games would these be? Would the league add two more of the contests where each team in one division plays the team that finished in the same position in another division? This would lead to more premium matchups like the Patriots/Colts and Patriots/Chargers which were two of the better New England games this year. However, it would also make it more difficult for a team to retain its division crown since they would be playing six division winners per season. The other option is to simply play each member of your division twice, and each team in three other divisions. This possibility would eliminate some of those top tier matchups.
The biggest problem with adding more games is the increased risk of injury. Even if you compensate with a shorter preseason, the level of ferocity players put into regular season games is much greater. Increased injuries are bad for the players and the fans. Playing two additional regular season contests per year would wear on players, and lead to shorter careers. In extreme cases, a single injury can be career or life-threatening, and the likelihood of this horrific occurrence would be increased. For players in a contract year, the added possibility of getting injured is an especially big concern, and could be the difference between millions of dollars in earnings over a career. From a fan's perspective, watching a team play without their stars is simply not as much fun (see the relative lack of interest in preseason games). Imagine if Aaron Rodgers had been healthy for the Patriots/Packers matchup last season. It was a good game with Matt Flynn at the helm, but watching Rodgers and Brady duke it out would likely have been even better.
If the league’s Injured Reserve system were to remain in place, adding two more games per year would mean a greater chance of players being lost for the season, and unable to participate in the playoffs. The NFL Playoffs remains the most exciting tournament in professional sports, and having fewer stars available to take part reduces the glory of the event. Changing the IR rules to allow players to return for the playoffs would be a start, but for many who suffer significant injuries, it would not make a difference.
Another reason I do not support the idea of an 18 game slate is it would eliminate all the season records I have come to love. The Patriots 16-0 regular season record would be meaningless. In fact most of the Patriots 2007 records, including Tom Brady’s 50 touchdowns, and Randy Moss’ 23 TD grabs for the season would likely be eclipsed. This is a bit of a selfish reason, but still a factor. Obviously the most important thing is winning the Super Bowl, and the honor of those wins between 2001 and 2004 would not diminish. However, 2007 was a spectacular event is Patriots history, and without those records, its significance would be marginalized.
My final concern is a minor one, but part of what makes the NFL so great is the limited amount of product. The NBA and MLB seasons drag on so long that individual games become less important. When there is more at stake per game, the contests are more exciting. Having to wait a full week for the next football game increases anticipation and makes the experience all the better. Two more games would not matter much in this respect, but two more could become four more or six more, and eventually the excitement of the sport has been deluded. Much of the intensity and brutality that initially drew me to the NFL has already been toned down by rules limiting contact with receivers and dangerous hits. This is not necessarily a bad thing since football is still very exciting, and safety is important, but the NFL should be careful that they don’t get too far away from what makes the sport so great.
The 18 game schedule remains an issue in the ongoing labor agreement negotiations. Feel free to share your opinion in the comments section or by participating in the poll below.
Are you in favor of an 18 game regular season?
Yes (70 votes)
No (455 votes)
525 total votes