The NFL and NFLPA has agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement by a narrow margin, and one of the biggest changes will be a 17-game schedule, which will be enacted in 2021 at the earliest.
Previously, the NFL had a 16-game schedule, and the addition of one more game—at the cost of one less preseason game—was a heavily debated topic. While an extended season will have a drastic impact on salaries, the topic I wish to focus on is the scheduling itself.
When it came to creating a schedule with 16 games, the NFL had a set formula. For reference, I will compare it to the 2019 Lions schedule.
- 6 games vs. divisional teams (e.g. 2 vs. Bears, Packers, Vikings)
- 4 games vs. an AFC division (e.g. 1 vs. Broncos, Chargers, Chiefs, Raiders)
- 4 games vs. an NFC division (e.g. 1 vs. Cowboys, Eagles, Giants, Washington)
- 2 games vs. teams from same conference that finished in same place the previous season (e.g. 1 vs. Cardinals & Buccaneers, who finished 4th in their divisions in 2018, same as the Lions)
However, a 17-game schedule throws this formula into a loop. We can assume that the first three criteria will remain, but the final one does not fit. It cannot change from two games to three, since the remaining conference 4th seed is already on the schedule. The NFL will need to rework its formula.
Today’s Question of the Day is:
How should the NFL schedule a 17-game season?
My answer: I was strongly against a 17-game season for many reasons, and throwing the schedule formula into question is one of them. Coupled with the fact that it means an uneven amount of home or away games, it is not fairly balanced between all teams.
Anyway, let’s play NFL matchmaker.
As mentioned, I believe the first three criteria will remain, so that accounts for 14 of the 17 total games. The final three, however, do not paint as clear of a picture.
So, let’s explore some options.
1) Keep the previous formula, add a game vs. a similarly-ranked seed from other conference
I think this is the likeliest option for the NFL. This extends on the fourth criteria, making the 17th game another team that finished in the same position, except in the opposing conference. When it comes to deciding which team this could be, the NFL could opt to have divisions rotate each year.
For example, let's assume the Lions finish fourth in the NFC North for the next few seasons. Sorry Lions fans, but this is for the sake of simplicity. The Lions could play the fourth seed from the AFC East in 2021, then the fourth seed from the AFC West in 2022.
2) Three games vs. similarly-ranked teams from other conference
In this scenario, you would play those final three games versus the other conference. This would exclude the division that you already play. This would would mean no rotating of divisions, which in my mind is a plus. It is self-regulating.
If we pretended that this rule came into effect in 2020, it would mean that the Lions would play the Dolphins, Bengals, and Chargers—the Lions are set to play the AFC South, so they would not play the Texans a second time.
However, this comes with the caveat of decreasing conference play. With the 2019 schedule, four out of the 16 games were outside your conference (25%). With the above scenario, that would change to seven out of 17 (41%). Such a large change in scheduling would impact the playoff race, since some teams would end up not playing each other as often.
Overall, I think the first option is the best option. While somewhat convoluted, it would disturb the status quo the least.
What do you think? How would you schedule games?