It has been 43 years since the NFL made its last seismic shift in the regular-season schedule, adding two more games when it went from 14 to 16.
It felt weird then and it’ll feel the same kind of weird this season as the league moves from 16 games to 17.
Other than simply one more game that counts, there will be a number of elements of change the 17-game season will bring, beginning with playoff implications and including an odd number of home games versus road games.
While the change may be bad for some players because it can be potentially harmful to their health and safety, it’s a godsend for the fans because they get one more game of consequence.
“This is a monumental moment in NFL history,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said when the change was ratified in March. “The CBA [collective bargaining agreement] with the players and the recently completed media agreements provide the foundation for us to enhance the quality of the NFL experience for our fans.’’
The change is great for the gambling industry, which has become such an integral part of the sport (officially anyway) with its legalization.
“The 17th week adds so much more handle, because instead of a fourth week of preseason, where our [betting] limits are much lower, you’ve got a week now that is going to have playoff implications for multiple teams and everyone’s going to have an interest in it,’’ said Vinny Magliulo of VSiN and South Point Sportsbook. “The fact that there are 17 regular-season games is significant in terms of the betting handle. In a nutshell, would you rather have four preseason weeks or 17 regular-season weeks? Give me 18 regular-season games.’’
Aside from the general betting volume the 17th week adds, Magliulo explained that it also adds to the money volume because there are higher betting limits to regular-season games as opposed to preseason games.
“Typically, in preseason games, places might take $2,000 to $5,000 bets per game whereas for a regular-season game like Week 17 you’re going to have limits of $10,000, $20,000, $50,000 per game depending on the location. That in itself is certainly going to add impact,’’ he said. “There’s going to be drama in those late-season games — who’s fighting for a playoff spot, who’s going to have home-field advantage. And, when you’ve got more teams involved in those types of races it increases the betting activity.’’
Jeff Sherman, from Westgate Sportsbook, echoed Magliulo’s sentiments about more volume … and the hope for an 18th week.
“It’s great for our betting handle in that we get an extra week of regular season versus preseason,’’ Sherman said. “The extra handle on the intrigue at that point in the season is going to be helpful to all the books. Each week in the NFL season is so precious with what sportsbooks do. If they were to add even one more week it would be even more beneficial to us because I’ve heard there’s been talk of an 18-game season possible.’’
First things first with the 17-game schedule.
The league will keep one bye week during the season, which means the regular season will expand from 17 to 18 weeks and push the final game to Jan. 9. The postseason will start the weekend of Jan. 15-17 and Super Bowl LVI will be played on Feb. 13, 2022 — the latest Super Bowl kickoff ever.
One of the most significant changes to the schedule will be the interconference alignment for the 17th game. Teams will play five interconference games instead of four as AFC teams will get the home game for the 2021 season (which will rotate to the NFC the following season).
The NFC East will play the AFC East, NFC West vs. AFC North, NFC South vs. AFC South, and NFC North vs. AFC West — as the matchups are determined from division finish from the 2020 season.
The new format puts an end to the league’s schedule symmetry with half of the teams this season playing nine home games and the other half nine road games.
As for an 18-game schedule in the future? Not in the near future. The CBA specifies that the league cannot expand the regular season beyond 17 games for the life of the deal, which runs through 2030. That means the soonest the owners could expand to 18 games would be 2031, unless the players agreed to reopen the CBA and renegotiate it, and don’t count on that.