The NFL hasn’t even played its first season with 17 games and already has its eye on adding another by the mid-2020s. Nothing is on the books yet, as league officials probably want to see what the already expanded regular-season schedule looks like in practice. But according to Peter King of NBC Sports, 18 games is a question of “when” not “if.”
Fans will remember the announcement that came in March 2021, when the league’s owners voted to add an extra game to the 2021 schedule. But the season itself won’t be any longer. The extra game will come at the cost of one preseason game. It’s undoubtedly an exciting prospect for football fans. There was resistance on behalf of the players when they were faced with a 17 game regular season, however. So it would follow that this news doesn’t come as particularly welcome to them.
“This is a monumental moment in NFL history,” a statement following the March announcement from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell read. “The CBA 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. And one of the benefits of each team playing 17 regular-season games is the ability for us to continue to grow our game around the world.”
Peter King is reading the writing on the wall. Based on the accelerated nature of this year’s schedule expansion, it looks like we’ll be seeing an 18 game schedule sooner rather than later.
The History of NFL Expansion
The NFL season is already significantly longer than it once was. The current 16 game schedule has been in place since 1978. Prior to that, the league played a 14 game regular-season schedule. And before 1960, the schedules demanded 12 games or fewer.
Anyone who played high school football knows full well just how taxing a 10 game season can be on the body. Granted, NFL players are professionals. And they are compensated in a major way for the express purpose of taking that kind of punishment.
But as medicine advances, we continue to learn more about the dangers of the head trauma that football players are exposed to each time they take the field. So the players have a vested interest in limiting their exposure. No matter how much they’re getting paid.
Whatever the timeline for an 18 game season ends up looking like, the NFL isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. And experts predict that the league itself will have added another two teams by 2035.