NFL's 17-game schedule is a win for fans but will take a big toll on players
By Geoff Schwartz
FOX Sports NFL Analyst
The NFL has officially announced it is expanding the regular season from 16 to 17 games, the first change in the league schedule since 1978.
This was expected, as expanding the schedule was part of the new collective bargaining agreement ratified by the players in March 2020. Aside from teams no longer being able to finish 8-8, the change will have a number of impacts around the NFL.
First of all, let's be clear about the goals of this expansion because they're quite simple. Playing more games means more opportunities for fans to watch the NFL. It means more money from the TV networks to show those games.
While players will get to share in those profits, adding another game to the schedule will take a serious toll on them. Money aside, almost nothing good can come out of this for the players.
As a former player, I can say that players' biggest fear is injury. While the players will make more money by playing one more game, it's also one more opportunity for them to get injured. I don’t think the players got enough in the CBA to justify more games, and I think any player would trade a one-game check to avoid a major injury. After all, that injury might alter future earnings.
In addition to this, while I acknowledge that another week of games increases the fan experience, injuries are the easiest way to ruin it. Is that extra game as good if your favorite player isn't able to play?
Adding another week to the grind of the season will also affect how players prepare and take care of their bodies. The season is physically exhausting, and players prepare accordingly. But the mental grind can be even tougher, especially if you haven't been doing it for years.
Players have been conditioned to view the season as 17 weeks (16 games plus a bye) and will need to adjust accordingly. When your team is in the playoff hunt or has qualified for the postseason, the extra week won’t be much of an issue. You suck it up for the playoffs and the chance at Super Bowl glory.
But if you’re on a losing team … oh, boy. That extra week will be brutal. There is no way to prepare for that.
Another interesting question to consider is if young players can use the additional game to boost their chances in free agency. In some cases, that might be possible.
For example, a fringe roster player, perhaps a quarterback such as Taylor Heinicke or Matt Flynn, might be able to use a Game 17 start to get paid the following offseason. But for other positions, I don’t see that becoming a thing. Good players generally find ways to get paid off a 16-game season, and I don't see a 17th game making or breaking anyone.
While a 17-game season provides dangers and complications for players, I have to say that as an NFL fan, I will enjoy the extra weekend of football. And if you're rooting for a fringe playoff team that gets hot late in the season, like the Chargers did last year, the extra game could offer some additional drama in the march toward the postseason.
Another added benefit for the fans is that some of the 17th-game matchups are outstanding.
The NFL schedule practically makes itself. Each team has six home-and-away games within its division, four against one of the other divisions in the same conference and four against a division in the opposite conference. The remaining two games are against the in-conference teams that finished in the same spot in their divisions.
For example, if you finished second in the NFC East and are set to play the entire NFC West and AFC South on your schedule, your two extra games would be against the second-place teams in the NFC North and NFC South.
The new schedule doesn’t change any of that, but it adds one more contest pairing two teams from different conferences. That's how we get intriguing matchups such as the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs next season. It’s a huge win for the NFL to feature matchups such as that on a more regular basis.
For the most part, though, these changes will be cosmetic. The league's best teams will still win a lot more games than they lose, and the bad teams will still win three or four.
But perceptions could change. A 10-6 record looks better on paper than a 10-7 season. Going 9-7 after finishing the previous season under .500 is a significant improvement. But 9-8? It's just not as sexy.
Although increasing the schedule is fantastic for fans, gamblers and anyone who loves football, it’s not a win for the players.
Geoff Schwartz played eight seasons in the NFL for five different teams. He started at right tackle for the University of Oregon for three seasons and was a second-team All-Pac-12 selection his senior year. He is an NFL analyst for FOX Sports. Follow him on Twitter @GeoffSchwartz.