The 2021 season is the first time there has been an NFL 17-game season for fans to enjoy. Granted, things are a little different than usual with teams playing an odd number of games and some teams getting one extra home game. But the season has largely been a success and few fans have complained about the extra week of games.
But why is the NFL 2021 schedule different from past years? If you want to look a gift horse in the mouth and want the new NFL season format explained, we have the answers and everything you need to know about the NFL’s 17-game season.
Explaining the NFL’s 17-game season
Why did the NFL expand the season to 17 games? In one word: money.
An extra week of the season means another week of revenue from television, not to mention half of the teams in the league get an extra home game. That allows team owners to make even more money from gate receipts and all of the other ways that teams generate revenue on game days. Of course, after the 2020 season was altered by the pandemic, NFL teams made significantly less money from gate receipts and concessions last year, so the extra game allowed owners to recoup some of their losses.
Naturally, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell had a different explanation last spring when he made the announcement. Goodell said the schedule was expanded “to enhance the quality of the NFL experience for our fans,” adding that it also creates “the ability for us to continue to grow our game around the world.”
In Goodell’s defense, he’s not wrong. Fans surely aren’t complaining about an extra week of the regular season or the Super Bowl being pushed even deeper into February. After all, if there are games to be played, NFL fans are going to watch.
In that sense, it makes it a no-brainer for the NFL to expand the season to 17 games once they signed a new media contract and were able to exercise the option to extend the season in the current CBA.
What does the future look like?
Of course, like it or not, NFL fans should settle in and get accustomed to an 18-week schedule and every team playing 17 games. The NFL would surely like to extend the regular season even further to 18 games.
However, the earliest that would happen is the 2031 season. That’s when the owners will be able to negotiate a new CBA with the players that allows the season to be expanded further.
The current CBA included the option for a 17th game, but any further expansion would have to be agreed to by the players.
While the league and its fans overwhelmingly approve of an extra week, the players don’t necessarily feel the same way. The players’ union voted in favor of the extra week by a small margin of 1,019 to 959, a mere 60 votes.
For the players who voted against it, the extra game means an even longer and more grueling season, not to mention one extra game for them to get hurt. On top of that, the increase in player salaries isn’t proportional, which means the owners are benefitting financially far more than the players from the extra game.
Eventually, there is likely to be an 18-game schedule in the NFL. It makes too much sense not to do so, as it’ll bring in more money and re-balance the schedule so that every team has the same number of home and road games.
It will also shrink the preseason by another week and push the Super Bowl back to the day before President’s Day. That will mean the day after the Super Bowl will be a national holiday, albeit an existing one. That would be a dream scenario for both the league and fans. However, it’s still going to take a few more years to get there.