Recently there has been a lot of discussion about expanding the current NFL playoff system to include more teams. What is not being discussed currently, at least publicly, is extending the regular season. This post is not intended to be a recommendation for or against such an extension. It is merely intended as a possible framework for the hypothetical extension that we the fans can discuss during the doldrums of the off-season. Like it or not, the NFL owners are always looking for ways to squeeze more revenue from the golden goose that is the NFL. I do not believe that the possibility of eventually extending the length of the NFL regular season is a dead issue.
This idea originally came to me during the lockout of 2011 before the new CBA was adopted. At that time the owners were pushing hard to extend the NFL regular season to 18 games for each team. To accommodate the two additional regular season games, the far less profitable preseason would be shortened by two games. The NFLPA predictably and adamantly opposed such an extension, and held out for the status quo on this issue. As we all know in hindsight, this is one of the few bargaining chips the NFLPA unequivocally won during the frustrating and drawn out process that led to the new CBA.
Like many football fans at the time, I was unhappy about the lockout and more than a little disgusted at both sides. The looming and realistic possibility of a season without NFL football was anathema to me, but it appeared that neither side was willing to compromise in order to end the lockout. So in my own fantasy world in which I have far more power than the real one, I thought of a compromise that was exactly half way between a 16 game season with 4 preseason games and an 18 game season with 2 preseason games. Eureka, let's have a 17 game regular season with 3 preseason games! One of the results from having an odd number of regular season games that I rather like is that no team would ever again have a totally "meh" 50:50 season like the Cowboys of recent years. Each team would end up with a clear cut winning or losing season every year.
So how would a 17 game season work, or in other words, who would play whom? Currently with a 16 game season, each team plays every other team in its own division twice, once at home and once away. Each team also plays each of the four teams in a different division of the same conference on a rotating basis. Each team also plays each of the 4 teams in one of the divisions of the other conference on a rotating basis. Finally each team plays the 2 teams in the remaining 2 divisions of its own conference that ended the previous season with the same ranking within their respective divisions. So currently out of 16 regular season games, 12 are played against teams in the same conference, and 4 are played against teams in the other conference. Within a division, each team plays against the same opponents except for the last 2 I listed that are determined by divisional rankings in the same conference from the preceding season.
My proposal would change those last 2 opponents in the same conference to 3 opponents in the other conference. Which 3? The ones in the 3 divisions not on the rotating schedule that year who ended with the same ranking within their respective divisions the preceding season. So out of 17 regular season games, each team would play 10 games against teams from their own conference and 7 games against teams from the other conference. Fewer intra-conference games and more inter-conference games between AFC and NFC teams would represent a huge change that might be an interesting subject to discuss to relieve our boredom during our long wait for real football. At least I think it could be. If my proposal were in effect for the 2014 season, the Broncos would play the Packers, Panthers, and Eagles instead of the Bengals and Colts. All other opponents would remain the same.
There is one more issue arising from my proposal that I must address. With an odd number of regular season games, half of the teams would end up with an extra home game and the other half would end up with an extra away game. Perhaps this could be resolved by something as simple as giving the extra home game to the AFC teams in even numbered years, and to the NFC teams in odd numbered years.
My proposal would not substantially modify our current playoff system and seeding, although I am aware that some of the tie breaker rules would have to be changed.