Do We Really Want 18 Games?

Do We Really Want 18 Games?

Over the past several weeks, Roger Goodell has been running around from training camp to training camp, including our very own Birds' nest in Lehigh, and a major part of his agenda has been promoting the NFL's plan to extend the regular season by two games. His point is simple: the fans overwhelmingly demand more football, particularly at the expense of two lousy exhibition games.

So why am I left wondering whether that is actually the case? We all agree the preseason is boring and the number of games maddening, and sure, the premise of a longer season sounds like bliss to any hardcore football fan. The commissioner isn't exactly being up front with his presentation of the facts though, and when we review the many issues associated with lengthening the season, we find there are some definite flaws with the league's approach.

Diluted product

The most common concern with an 18-game season is more games will naturally lead to a greater number of injuries. Professional football is already a war of attrition. In any given week, every team in the league could reach double digits on the injury report. We're so worried about players getting hurt, there was debate as to whether or not Stewart Bradley should participate at Flight Night, a standard practice featuring essentially zero contact.

It's not just the physical toll it will take on many, many human bodies, but how it will impact the integrity of the game. Every season, several teams that are projected to be successful and possibly even compete for a Super Bowl are completely decimated by injuries by the time January rolls around. Think Chris Redman handing off to Jason Snelling for the Falcons in Week 13 last season.

Additional games are likely to drive more clubs to look toward their backup quarterbacks come the post-season. More stars will fall across the board, and their replacements are a collection of first- and second-year players taken toward the end of some recent draft (or not at all), and journeymen who hang around the league because either they have have incredible potential, or they're solid special teamers. Those are not the players fans are paying to see.

Even if a few teams manage to survive, for our enjoyment they can dispatch of the last few Daunte Culpeppers and Charlie Fryes during the Wild Card and Divisional Rounds of the playoffs. Does that sound even remotely like the best possible product?

The rest of the problem

Several teams—including the Eagles—opt to rest most if not all of their valuable players during the final few weeks of the season. Even while chasing a perfect record, the Colts chose to bench Peyton Manning in the second half of a winnable game this past year. Of course, the Colts weren't even going to play in the Super Bowl if Peyton Manning went down in an otherwise meaningless Week 16 contest against the Jets.

This or some similar scenario has been playing out on multiple sidelines every season. What I can promise is that will not improve if the schedule grows to 18 games.

There are two main reasons coaches are able to employ this strategy. One is they can't change their team's post-season seeding for better or worse based on the result in the final game of the season. This won't necessarily be affected one way or the other. Two is because one team has built such a lead in the standings, they can't possibly be caught.

That is going to happen with much greater frequency, especially if the injury point proves true. A dominant team in a weak division can seal their fate much sooner with so many extra games to play. Obviously they can still vie for playoff byes and home field advantage, but there would still be enough variance in records some years where much of that would be settled well before the season reached its conclusion. Even with that much incentive still on the line, some coaches will toy with resting players anyway.

Basically, the NFL will have replaced the meaningless extra preseason games with even more meaningless regular season games. That's not the trade-off people are hoping for.

Competitive balance

This might sound strange, but another reason the league shouldn't add two games is because it will eliminate the symmetry of the current scheduling scheme.

The schedule is strictly governed and works the same every year. Two games against division opponents. One game against each member of another division in the same conference, on rotation. One game against each member of another division in the opposite conference, on rotation. A game against a member of the remaining two divisions in the same conference based on their finish the previous season, balancing the strength of scheduling. The rules also assure every team will have the opportunity to play every other team in the NFL at their home stadium at least one time every eight years.

The logic is flawless. The schedules in baseball, basketball, and hockey come off as completely arbitrary in comparison. For instance, the Phillies play random teams from the American League every season, but nobody whose name isn't Bud Selig can explain why. Is there some reason the Sixers played the Bulls four times last season, but only had three tilts against the Wizards, or why they play division rivals the same amount as other conference opponents?

Call me crazy, but I like the way the NFL's current system works. However, if they add two games, they'll likely be or feel just as arbitrary as a three-game series with the Twins.

Invalid argument

Nobody is standing up in defense of the current four-game preseason format. Two of the games are almost entirely worthless, and the fact that they charge full price for such an inferior product is insulting.

What's also insulting though is the fact that the NFL would even attempt to use this as an argument for adding games to the regular season. What does one have to do with the other? People aren't necessarily complaining there isn't enough football, they're complaining that there is too much bad football, which for some unknown reason costs the same as the real thing.

I'm sure there are plenty of fans who fully support additional games, but it's faulty reasoning to deduce that every person who thinks the league should shorten the preseason in turn wants to tack those contests onto a longer schedule. Prior to this becoming such a publicized story, I have no memory of any fan pushing for exhibition games to be counted, only that they be done away with entirely.

Don't you wish they would just call this what it is? It's a play to increase revenues. Shortening the preseason is just a byproduct of the business plan, which is of course to maximize profits. More games equals more dollars coming in at stadiums and from television deals. At this point, having licensed everything else there is to sell, from rights for video game to apparel, down to the names of the buildings they play in, the owners likely view this as one of the last remaining means to earn a few more bucks.

Terrible precedent

And on that note, the increase to 18 games will likely mark a fundamental shift in the direction of the National Football League. First, they increase the number of games. Next, they continue to add overseas venues to the slate. Finally, they'll look to expand the league, possibly even create an international division.

Football is great, but has achieved its status as the most popular sport in North America by focusing on competitive balance and fan presentation. They've maximized the number of televised games, other NFL programming, and the amount of online content, which has all been great for us.

When they start tinkering with the number of games, continue pushing the envelope in other areas of the world, and ultimately wind up expanding, they are messing with that balance that is a major part of its appeal. In the end, the NFL could find themselves in the same position as Major League Baseball and the NBA, where certain franchises are rendered irrelevant for eras at a time because there simply aren't enough quality players to go around.

That's not going to happen simply because the league adds a couple of games to the schedule, but once those walls have fallen, it's only a matter of time until owners start looking toward the next big cash grab.

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets crush Islanders, 7-0

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets crush Islanders, 7-0

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Unlike some other NHL teams coming off their bye week, there wasn't a spot of rust on the sleek Columbus Blue Jackets.

In their first game following a five-day break, the high-energy Blue Jackets blew out the New York Islanders 7-0 Saturday as backup goalie Joonas Korpisalo earned his first career shutout.

Josh Anderson and Nick Foligno each scored twice, and David Savard had a goal and three assists. Boone Jenner and Jack Johnson also scored to help the Blue Jackets end New York's three-game winning streak (see full recap).

Zibanejad scores in OT to help Rangers beat Devils again
NEWARK, N.J. -- The New York Rangers are finding ways to win, and the New Jersey Devils just aren't.

Moments after goaltender Antti Raanta stopped Kyle Palmieri on a breakaway, Mika Zibanejad scored 1:16 into overtime and the Rangers rallied to beat the Devils 4-3 on Saturday.

"I had to redeem myself after that letdown on the breakaway the other way," said Zibanejad, whose mistake gave Palmieri a chance to complete a hat trick. "Rants came up big and it's nice to see that puck cross the goal line once again and win the game."

The goal was Zibanejad's first in 16 games and it gave the Rangers their ninth win in 11 games (9-1-1). Struggling New Jersey got its fourth loss in five games (1-3-1) (see full recap).

Shaw's OT goal gives Canadiens 14th straight win over the Leafs
TORONTO -- Andrew Shaw scored 1:06 into overtime and the Montreal Canadiens beat Toronto 3-2 on Saturday night for their 14th consecutive victory over the Maple Leafs.

Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk had the other goals for the Canadiens, who increased their Atlantic Division lead to four points over Ottawa and five on Toronto. They are 3-7-1 in the last 11 games and 2-2-0 under new coach Claude Julien.

Carey Price stopped 32 shots for Montreal, including a breakaway by Auston Matthews in overtime. The 19-year-old Matthews scored twice to reach 30 goals in his rookie season, and Frederik Andersen was sharp with 25 saves for Toronto (see full recap).

Best of NBA: Noel scores 9 points, grab 10 boards in Mavs debut

Best of NBA: Noel scores 9 points, grab 10 boards in Mavs debut

DALLAS -- Harrison Barnes scored 19 points and Dirk Nowitzki had 18 points and nine rebounds as the Dallas Mavericks ended a three-game losing streak by beating the New Orleans Pelicans 96-83 on Saturday night.

The Pelicans fell to 0-2 since trading for DeMarcus Cousins and pairing him with Anthony Davis.

Davis had 39 points and 14 rebounds but scored only 12 in the second half. Cousins finished with 12 points and 15 rebounds.

Seth Curry scored 10 of his 13 in the fourth quarter to help Dallas pull away. His 3-pointer with 4:49 to play gave the Mavericks an 84-72 lead, and the Pelicans never got closer than six after that (see full recap).

Harden leads Rockets past Timberwolves in 142-130 shootout
HOUSTON -- James Harden had 24 points and 10 assists to lead the Houston Rockets to a 142-130 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves as both teams set season scoring highs in a Saturday night shootout.

Houston won for the sixth time in seven games, handing the Timberwolves their first road loss in more than three weeks.

Minnesota committed a season-high 25 turnovers that led to 38 points for the Rockets.

Playing against Houston's guard-heavy rotation, Minnesota went inside all night and outscored the Rockets 68-44 in the paint. Karl-Anthony Towns had 37 points and 22 rebounds, and Andrew Wiggins added 30 points (see full recap).

Bulls benefit as James sits with strep, beat Cavs 117-99
CLEVELAND -- Dwyane Wade scored 20 points and Jimmy Butler recorded a triple-double, leading the Chicago Bulls to a 117-99 victory Saturday night over the Cleveland Cavaliers, who played without LeBron James.

James missed the game with strep throat, and coach Tyronn Lue said he wasn't sure how long the Cavaliers would be without the four-time MVP. Cleveland struggled as it often does without its star - they are 4-19 without him since he returned to Cleveland in 2014, including 0-4 this season.

Chicago has won all three games against Cleveland this season. It took advantage of James' absence to win its fourth straight overall (see full recap).

George ejected, Heat stay hot with 113-95 win over Pacers
MIAMI -- Paul George had another frustrating night in Miami.

Hassan Whiteside scored 22 points and grabbed 17 rebounds, Dion Waiters added 22 points and the red-hot Miami Heat pulled away late to beat the Indiana Pacers 113-95 on Saturday night. Miami outscored Indiana 42-22 in the final 16 minutes, all with George watching from the Pacers' locker room after an ejection.

"It felt like a playoff-type game," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said (see full recap).