The league’s owners and players have already agreed to move forward with its biggest change to the NFL schedule since 1978. Now, though, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is strongly suggesting that the move will take place beginning next season.
It will make the nation’s most successful pro league a little bit more dominant and make more money for everyone involved.
Jerry Jones says NFL owners are in agreement
The collective bargaining agreement ratified by owners and the players’ union last spring gives the league the ability to move to a 17-game NFL schedule beginning in 2021. Based on the roughly $8 billion a year the NFL takes in from its TV network partners, the additional week of games likely generates $250 million that owners and players can share.
Meeting by video conference this week, owners agreed on how the 17th game will be handled but did not disclose details, Yahoo! Sports reported. However, they tabled a vote on formally adding the 17th game pending further discussion.
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is leaving the impression that the vote is a formality. Owners have plenty of time between now and the start of the NFL 2021 calendar in March to approve the change.
“My personal opinion is that it will (happen),” Jones said on radio station KRLD-FM. “We did not agree on that (on Dec. 16) at our meeting, but we’ve agreed to do it, look at it and do it. And we’ve got it in our collective bargaining agreement that begins this year.”
Jones said holding off the vote could lead to some creativity and innovation.
“We wanted (everyone) to think about it more, and to think about if there are any nuances we could add to it,” he said. “You’d be surprised (what you could devise) when you invite the perspective from 32 teams.”
The existing NFL schedule works beautifully
The existing 16-game NFL schedule works seamlessly because of the balance it offers. All 32 teams play eight regular-season games at home and eight on the road, with the exception of international games. Those neutral-site games were scrapped for the 2020 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As for the list of opponents for each team, that’s known within minutes of the conclusion of the preceding season. It begins with home-and-away games against the three other teams in the division.
In addition, all the members of a division play the full set of teams from one division in the AFC and one in the NFC, generating another eight games. For example, AFC East teams drew the AFC West and NFC West this year.
The final two of the 16 games are played within the conference against opponents from the two divisions not on the schedule. Teams play opponents that finished in the same place in the standings. As the second-place team in the AFC East in 2019, the Buffalo Bills drew the Pittsburgh Steelers and Tennessee Titans, runners-up in the AFC North and South, respectively.
Those two extra games create a subtle bit of parity. Making strong teams play strong teams drags some of them back to the pack, however slightly. Having weak teams play weak teams adds a win or two to some of the previous year’s also-rans.
How would the 17th game work?
The two most recent schedule expansions came in 1961, when the league moved from 12 games to 14, and 1978, when the NFL schedule was bumped to 16 games. Those were easy adjustments allowing for adding one home game and one on the road. That won’t be the case if the NFL goes to a 17-game schedule instead of 18 contests.
With discussions between the NFL and its players’ union ongoing, the league hasn’t announced how a 17th game will be handled, but there are a few options on how to determine which teams play eight home games and which play nine. Most likely, all the AFC teams will get the extra home game one year and NFC teams the next.
That would make for a simple set of 16 interconference games spaced out throughout the season and be most fair from a competitive standpoint when the playoffs roll around. Again, first-place teams would probably face first-place teams, etc.
A less-likely idea that has been floated is to stick with eight home and eight road games, turning the 17th contest into neutral-site games scattered across the country in cities like San Antonio, San Diego, Louisville, and St. Louis. With the pandemic likely a concern for at least one more year, that is now considered an unneeded complication.