18 Regular Season Games? Say It Ain't So

Yesterday, the 18 game schedule was being talked about, once again. It seems to happen about this time, every year, but this time there seems to be a lot more momentum behind it than in years past. Quite a few MSM pundits, team owners and even the commissioner want the NFL to move to an 18 game regular season schedule, at this point.

This isn't the first that we've heard about additional regular season games this summer, though. Here is a quote from the SI article on July 31st:

Next year a work stoppage might affect camps. Then by 2012 the league's owners hope for an 18-game regular season, which would throw off the traditional football math of late summer: two weeks of camp before the first exhibition, six before the opener.

While I love football and abide by the "some is good, more is great" mentality, I am not jumping for joy about this proposal for an 18 game regular season. You probably think I'm talking out both sides of my mouth, however, I believe that the NFL schedule is fine the way it is and should keep the current format. I will tell you why after the jump.

First of all, the 18 game regular season proposal means that there would be 20 total games (not including playoffs) with 2 preseason games and 18 regular season games. Now, as mouth watering as that sounds, just think about it for a minute. There are tons of details, very large details in fact, being left out of that scenario.

 

NFLPA's Point of View

The labor negotiation between the NFLPA (NFL Players' Association) and the NFL is the biggest hurdle, in my opinion. On one side, you have the NFLPA, who are already upset because the retired NFL players aren't getting the medical coverage that they desire. On the other hand, the NFL (or Roger Goodell, at least) appears to be, for the most part, happy with the economics of the league while looking towards getting as much football to the fans as they can (hence the 18 game proposal). The more football they give to the fans, the more money comes back to them. The NFL is, after all, a business.

Now that we've established a very basic understanding of what the two sides want, consider the following question:

Do you really think that the NFLPA (NFL Players Association) is in a position where they want to put an additional 2 competitive games into the football schedule without additional money or benefits going to the players? Not a chance. Since the NFLPA is still upset - Kevin Mawae's interview on Mike and Mike about a month ago certainly indicated that they were - about retired players not getting the help they need from the NFL, I find it quite difficult to believe that they would allow the NFL to add a couple games to the schedule and not dish our more money or benefits for the players, first.

Yes, an 18 game schedule makes a ton of sense for the NFL. This league generates millions of dollars and having 2 additional weeks of coverage can only increase the profit of the NFL, not to mention 2 fewer weeks of being absolutely bored during the offseason. With that said, the NFLPA won't go for it without some greenbacks.

Going from 20 guaranteed games for every NFL team to 22 guaranteed games will cause yet another difference of opinion to be worked out between the NFLPA and NFL. At this point, we can't afford any set backs. With the current negotiations yet to be completed, I'm afraid that an added topic of debate would lead to more delay in the 2011 labor dispute. It is probably a better idea, at this point, to solve a small problem to get some negotiation momentum going and then tackle larger problems at a later date. An 18 game regular season is not a "small" problem.

Kirk Davis said in his recent article "The Reality of an 18 Game Season (and More Denver Broncos Football)" that we should

Expect a compromise on off-season work as labor talks progress. Given the likelihood of an enhanced season, the league calendar will need to change to compensate and allow more time for rest and recovery. The Commissioner previously talked about curtailing the amount and intensity of organized team activities and off-season work. 

If that happens, then the NFLPA is more likely to give this idea the okay, but they are still going to want more money for their current players and retired players. They are, after all, going to be playing 2 more competitive games than they normally would. We all know that regular season games are different than OTAs. You can't convince me, or the NFLPA for that matter, that taking off a few weeks of offseason activities will make up for additional beatings in the regular season. You could make an argument from the other side, but is the NFLPA really going to see eye to eye with you on that? The regular season is a weekly battle. As weeks 12 and 14 and 16 roll around, the bodies of these NFL players are already pretty banged up. If an 18 game schedule is brought up before the NFLPA, could the NFLPA ask the NFL to consider an increase in roster sizes? There's yet another wrench to throw into the negotiations. See what I'm getting at?

The more issues are proposed, the more time it will take for everyone to agree, be happy, hold hands and sing campfire songs.

Regardless of what happens with the 18 game season proposal, I just want a deal to get done. If the 18 game schedule is on the agenda and they feel that it all can get done on time, that's fine, but I want something. At this point, I'd rather have 16 quality regular season games in  2011 than I would 0 regular season games in 2011. Get that negotiation done first and then we can talk about an 18 game schedule. 

 

No more meaningless games?

So, the idea being proposed is to convert 2 preseason games into regular season games. 20 NFL games would still be on the docket (like in years past), but the preseason would just be shortened. Not only does it quench the fan's appetite for more regular season games, it also eliminates a few "meaningless" games and eliminates opportunities for a preseason injury to certain players.

Right?

In a way, yes. However, there are a couple of problems that I see with that. First of all, we are changing from a system where there are 4 sort of meaningless games to a situation where we have 2 games where the coaches don't have enough live-action games to give players a chance to improve in preseason. The 2 preseason games can be played in two different ways, neither of which is ideal (I'll get to those in a moment). In both the past preseasons and the proposed 2 game preseason, you do not need to pay attention to the scoreboard. However, the teams would have 2 fewer games to gel and get real NFL competition. By the same token, you would also have less time to evaluate your bubble players and evaluate your roster depth in real live-action simulations.

With the lack of time in the preseason, you will have coaches do one of two things. They could play their starters more frequently so that the team can gel or they can play their backups more frequently so they can formulate a more accurate depth chart. 

 

Playing the Starters

If you remember back to last season, Kyle Orton had an absolutely horrendous opening to the preseason. In fact, the word "horrendous" probably isn't a strong enough adjective to describe his opening to the preseason. If anybody could use a 4 game preseason to straighten things out, it was the 2010 Denver Broncos. Kyle Orton threw 3 interceptions in week 1 of the preseason but his interception numbers decreased throughout the preseason and allowed the Broncos to win their first 6 regular season games. 

If the preseason is shortened to 2 games, the Broncos would likely be sitting on an 0-2 start at the beginning of the season. We just weren't clicking, at all.

With that said, are we (as fans) really going to be satisfied with 2 extra weeks of "regular season" football, despite the fact that the playbooks will be more vanilla than with a 4 game preseason. Under the proposed schedule, teams will have 2 fewer weeks to install their schemes and 2 fewer weeks to watch and analyze game film before the real games start. Week 1 will be similar to preseason week 3. In the 2010 preseason, it is week 3 of the preseason right now and we have yet to see a creative zone blitz from the Denver defense. We have rushed 4 on pretty much every down. Going into next week, do you expect a complex blitz scheme that looks similar to a regular season scheme? I don't.

I know... I know... but KB, if the teams know that they are starting 2 weeks earlier, wouldn't they start installing their schemes earlier?

Great question, schizophrenic self. Going back to the idea mentioned earlier, the NFL wants to shorten it's offseason program so that it will mitigate the chances for injury. Unfortunately, your offensive and defensive schemes are already lacking 2 weeks of practice and 2 weeks of game film that it would have gotten under the current format and that's before you take out more weeks of OTAs. And now the problem comes full circle. You can't extend the regular season schedule without shortening the offseason practices. If you do that, you can't install a complex offense/defense in time for the start of the season unless you start your starters on just about every snap of the preseason to get in some quality work. If you do that, you are increasing chance of injury while simultaneously taking away reps from your bubble players and rookies. If you do that, you eliminate chances for lower draft picks to get a shot at achieving their NFL dreams. One of the best Broncos of all time comes to mind.

 

The Terrell Davis Conundrum

Assuming for a second that we are creating an 18 game regular season schedule and there are only 2 season games, let's think about the 1995 Denver Broncos preseason. It is week 2 of the preseason and the Broncos travel to the Tokyo Dome to take on the San Fransisco 49ers. It's the last game of the preseason (because, remember, we only have 2 preseason games in this scenario) and you see a special teams player make an outstanding hit. That had to have been a linebacker, right? Wrong. That was your rookie running back from the 6th round of the 1995 draft. The Broncos go on to win but now that the game is over, you have a real dilemma on your hands. This Davis kid looks like he has some potential but it is hard to justify giving him a roster spot based on one special teams tackle. 

He may have some potential, down the road, but numbers are tight and the hypothetical 1995 Broncos have to get the roster down to 53 really soon. Do they cut him at that point or don't they? Is a booming special teams tackle enough to move a runningback up the depth chart?

I'll take hypothetical Mike Shanahan off the hot seat, for a second, and say that having preseason game number 3 and 4 are very important in determining who does and doesn't make an NFL roster. It's all fine and dandy having 30 or 40 training camp practices to help determine the general look that your roster will have. However, when it comes down to a matter of a handful of players competing for one or two roster spots, real games and real situations on the big stage are the best way to figure out who should get that roster spot and who should go home.

Here's another scenario for you. Assume two players are fighting for one roster spot in a 2 week preseason setup. Player X outperforms Player Y in the first preseason game. After a week of film and practice they come back in week X of the preseason and Player Y plays about as well as Player X. Player Y made lots of positive gains after seeing himself on film and correcting some things, but since he still hasn't performed better than Player X in a live-action simulation. At this point in the preseason, despite his improvement, Player Y is likely going to be cut. With only 2 preseason games, you are essentially looking at only one week to give a player game film to analyze, correct, and show improvement on. After that, there is a game and the next day is cut day so that week 1 of the regular season there can be a 53 man roster. That doesn't leave much room for undrafted rookies, bubble players and preseason long shots to make an impact, does it?

 

My Suggestion

I suggest that the NFL and NFLPA focus on coming to an agreement in the labor negotiations, as is, and keep a 16 game schedule for 2011 with 4 preseason games. You wouldn't have to open a can of worms by discussing different injury concerns or talk about expanding the roster and so on. All that the NFL/NFLPA would have to do is reach an agreement about the current schedule, which they have already dealt with extensively.

I'll take the evil that I know over the evil that I don't know. There are just too many problems with the proposal and not enough acceptable concrete solutions, right now. When more information becomes available and the NFLPA makes a statement about the NFL's 18 game schedule proposal, I may change my mind. For now, I am going to leave you with something I wrote a while back that originally described Corell Buckhalter's value on 1st and 2nd downs, but fits really well with the 18 game schedule proposal.

Everything should be in moderation, even the NFL schedule. It's like drinking an ICEE, in a way. If you have a lot of it all at once, you are going to get a brain freeze. The key is to find an amount that you can consume without getting a stomach ache, consume it at a pace where you don't get a brain freeze, and are left with a feeling of satisfaction (not pain or regret).

In my opinion, if we go with an 18 game schedule, we may have some pain and regret instead of total satisfaction.

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