There has been much discussion on whether the NFL should go to an 18-game schedule. The short answer is: Yes. But let’s examine this issue from several different perspectives.
As for the fans, this game is played for the fans and in the end; it is the public that makes this giant enterprise work. And frankly, season ticket holders have been getting the short end of the stick by being forced to pay for two preseason games at the same price as the eight games cost of the regular season. Every fan, especially season ticket holders, would prefer two preseason games and 18 games that count over the current format.
Also, concerning those two preseason games, there would be a lot of buzz for the first one as there is today. Then, the final preseason game might be a live audition much like Week 3 of the preseason is today. While some teams might rest their top players altogether during those two contests, there would still be a lot more buzz and a lot more watchability to a two game preseason instead of the way it drags on for the fans today.
As for the owners, well, this one is a no brainer. Going to this new format would simply create more revenue. More television. More betting. You understand. It would enhance an already supremely successful business.
How about for the coaches? Well, this one is a little trickier. If the NFL were to go to 18 games in the regular season, surely the rosters would need to be expanded. That would give the coaching staffs more options for specialty players, better depth overall for sure as well as a better ability to think for the long-term in the developing of players. This goes double for young quarterbacks with upside. Would the coaches, in turn, get more practice time than the current collective bargaining agreement allows? You would hope so, but that is far from a sure thing. What is certain, though, is that teams would have less game film to go off of in order to get down to their final rosters, as they would be two important preseason games short.
Many think that preseason games are meaningless, but by no means do coaching staffs and front offices agree. This also goes for the evaluations of other franchises during the preseason to see if you might be interested in adding a player that gets released.
That leads us to the players. Borderline players would have less of a stage to show their respective teams (and 31 other teams) what they can do with just two live auditions at their disposal. That would be rough, but expanded rosters would help that. Not to mention, without question, the salary cap would increase exponentially and that would give a much bigger financial pie for the players to feast from. This might greatly help the mid- to lower-tier veterans, a group that is somewhat prejudiced against currently yet has much value on game day, stay in the league for another contract or two.
Player safety is the obvious downside to this entire situation, but if the NFL were to go to 18 games, they absolutely should add a second bye week into the equation.
Therefore, the schedule makers could assure that a team playing on a Thursday Night would have a bye before that game as well as one spaced out throughout the season. Of course players would play more snaps over the course of the regular season, but they might be spelled more throughout each game with the added depth on the roster. But more importantly, ask any NFL player how invaluable a second bye week would be to rest their bodies and get away from the game for a bit.
How about scheduling? This one seems easy. The NFL should just eliminate the two games in which first place teams play first place teams within their conference, second place teams play second place teams, etc. Instead, as usual, there would be six divisional games. Then, in addition to playing a rotating AFC and NFC division, they could just add one additional division from either conference. That would add up to 18 games and every team in each respective division would then play the exact same teams. Schedule makers could also look years ahead and know what teams were to be playing very far in advance with only the distinction of home vs. road as a variable. Of course, with two preseason games, 18 regular season contests and two built in bye weeks, the season would have to start one week sooner or end one week later.
Also, 16 games is an extremely small sample size when determining which teams should go to the postseason. Over the past few years, we have seen a few suspect squads get into the playoffs. While it is only two more games, it would still undoubtedly give us a better barometer for the cream truly rising to the top during the regular season and you would think that it would be extremely rare for a team with single digit victories to reach the playoffs in this new format.
In the end, going to 18 games should happen. There are more quirks than what is spelled out here, but smarter folks than us can figure out all those kinks.