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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

'A voice for the voiceless'
Kiley O’Brien ’25, Assistant Features Editor • July 18, 2024
Fit to be king
Lilli Dellheim '25 M.A., Special to the Hawk • July 13, 2024

A game too many


Throwing a flag on the NFL’s new schedule

The NFL had the perfect schedule format, but NFL owners ruined it.

On March 30, the NFL owners approved a change from a 16 game regular season, to a 17 game regular season. The change will be implemented at the beginning of the upcoming 2021 season and will be the first time the league has expanded the regular season schedule since 1978, when they made the jump from 14 games to 16. 

Under the system that had been in place since the addition of a 32nd team in 2002, each team played 16 games: six games in their division versus divisional opponents, four matchups with teams from a division in the opposite conference, four games against teams from one of the other three divisions in their conference and two games against the teams who finished in the same position in the other two divisions in their conference during the previous season. 

While the process of scheduling those 16 games will stay the same, the 17th game will be an inter-conference matchup between two teams that finished in the same positions within their divisions. The divisions that played each other two years prior will be matched up for the 17th game. 

The change also means that the schedule symmetry is gone. There will no longer be an even split of eight home games and eight away games for each team, as 17 games means half of the league will play nine home games, and the other half will play nine away games. This will alternate between the AFC and the NFC each year, and AFC teams will begin the rotation, playing nine home games in 2021.

This scheduling change comes without an additional bye week, which creates trouble for the players. Injuries were at an all time high over the course of the 2020 NFL season. There were a total of 801 injuries in the NFL this season, smashing the previous record of 786 during the 2015 season. 

While many will attribute the injury total to a lack of offseason team activities or preseason games due to the pandemic, injuries have been steadily rising in the NFL since 2012. Players are struggling to stay healthy over the course of a 16-game season, and adding an extra game with no extra bye week will only make things more difficult for the players.

The addition of a 17th game will challenge coaches to think about how they can have the healthiest team possible come playoff time. If their team is already locked into their playoff spot through the first 15 games, they may opt to rest some of their starters for the final two games in order to gear up for the playoffs. While this is reasonable for the coaching staff of a given team to protect their Super Bowl aspirations, it is dreaded by teams and fans across the league. This has the potential to send a ripple effect across the playoff picture, as one team sitting starters can have costly ramifications for teams in their conference that are fighting for playoff spots. 

In the 2020 season, four teams were fighting for the final three AFC wild-card playoff spots headed into the final week of the season. Two of the four teams were playing against teams who were resting their starters, putting them at an advantage in their fight for the remaining playoff spots. 

Fortunately for the Indianapolis Colts, the Miami Dolphins could not overcome the Buffalo Bills’ backups, sending the Colts to the playoffs. While this instance didn’t significantly skew the playoff picture, taking things out of a playoff hopeful’s hands by resting starters is no fun for anyone, and adding an additional week with potential for more resting of starters only amplifies the problem, and possibly harms the integrity of the game.

The NFL had the perfect system from 2002-20. Thirty-two teams, 16 games, eight divisions and four teams in each division. Oddly satisfying, isn’t it? 

The addition of a 17th game to the NFL schedule is going to have long-term consequences on the health of the players and how teams approach the regular season. The change has the possibility to lead to a decrease in the quality of the on-field product due to more injuries and more sitting of starters, and a decrease in quality of play is something that no football fan wants.

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