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 NBA: Rockets overcome Russell Westbrook's 7th straight triple-double

Best of NBA: Rockets overcome Russell Westbrook's 7th straight triple-double

OKLAHOMA CITY -- James Harden scored 21 points, and the Houston Rockets overcame Russell Westbrook's seventh consecutive triple-double to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 102-99 on Friday night.

Harden also had 12 assists and nine rebounds to help the Rockets win their fifth straight. Houston withstood Harden's 6-for-23 shooting effort.

Westbrook finished with 27 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. He has the longest triple-double streak since Michael Jordan had seven straight in 1989. The most in a row is nine by Philadelphia's Wilt Chamberlain in March 1968.

It was Westbrook's 12th triple-double this season and the 49th of his career. He is the NBA's active leader in the category and ranks sixth all-time.

The Thunder had won the previous six games during Westbrook's triple-double binge (see full story).

James moves into 9th on scoring list as Cavs top Heat
CLEVELAND -- LeBron James scored 27 points to move into ninth place on the NBA scoring list, and the Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Miami Heat 114-84 on Friday night.

James passed Elvin Hayes on a driving layup with 6:58 remaining and has 27,315 career points. The four-time MVP was removed about a minute later and received a loud ovation from the Cleveland crowd.

Kevin Love, a game-time decision because of back spasms, scored a team-high 28 points and had 15 rebounds for the Cavaliers. He missed the morning shootaround but was in the lineup after warming up on the court about an hour before tip-off.

Kyrie Irving added 23 points for the Cavs, who have won three straight after losing three in a row.

Derrick Williams scored 17 points to lead the short-handed Heat, who have lost four straight (see full story). 

Schroder has career-high 33, Hawks rally past Bucks
MILWAUKEE -- Dennis Schroder scored a career-high 33 points and the Atlanta Hawks rallied from 20 down in the second half to defeat the Milwaukee Bucks 114-110 on Friday night.

Paul Millsap had 23 points and 14 rebounds for Atlanta. Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 18.

The Hawks, who ended a seven-game losing streak Wednesday with a win over Miami, trailed by 20 at halftime. A 40-point third quarter put them back in the game.

Jabari Parker scored 27 for Milwaukee. Giannis Antetokounmpo, in foul trouble throughout the game, had 14.

Atlanta pulled ahead 105-103 on Kyle Korver's jumper with 3:15 remaining, giving the Hawks their first lead since early in the game (see full story). 

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets top Red Wings to notch 5th straight win

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets top Red Wings to notch 5th straight win

DETROIT -- Brandon Dubinsky scored a tiebreaking goal in the second period and the surging Columbus Blue Jackets won their fifth straight game, 4-1 over the Detroit Red Wings on Friday night.

Lukas Sedlak got his first NHL goal for the Blue Jackets, who have earned at least a point in 12 of their last 13 games. Cam Atkinson contributed a short-handed goal in the first period for Columbus.

Dylan Larkin's power-play goal in the second was the only scoring of the night for the Red Wings. Sergei Bobrovsky had 32 saves for the Blue Jackets.

Sam Gagner scored into an empty net with 13.9 seconds remaining (see full story). 

Staal scores in 6th round of SO to lift Wild over Oilers
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Eric Staal scored in the sixth round of a shootout and the Minnesota Wild beat the Edmonton Oilers 3-2 on Friday night.

Matt Dumba and Jason Zucker scored in regulation for Minnesota, which has won three straight.

Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk made 25 saves. He entered with a league-best .946 save percentage and 1.65 goals-against average.

Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had goals for the Oilers, whose four-game losing streak began with a 2-1 home overtime loss to the Wild last Sunday.

Staal scored on a backhand deke before Nugent-Hopkins fired wide in the sixth round (see full story). 

Raanta, Rangers beat Blackhawks, 1-0, in overtime
CHICAGO -- Nick Holden scored 55 seconds into overtime, Antti Raanta made 26 saves against his former team and the New York Rangers beat the Chicago Blackhawks 1-0 on Friday night.

Derek Stepan passed from the boards to a streaking Holden in the middle of the ice, and he beat Scott Darling on the stick side for his fourth goal of the season.

Darling was going for his second straight shutout while subbing for injured starter Corey Crawford but had to settle for another solid performance.

Raanta, who made his NHL debut with Chicago in 2013 and played for the Blackhawks for two seasons before he was traded to New York, improved to 15-0-3 in 20 career appearances at the United Center.

The 27-year-old Raanta had 17 saves in Thursday's 2-1 victory at Winnipeg, and coach Alain Vigneault opted to give him a second straight start over Henrik Lundqvist because of his recent play and his success in Chicago (see full story).

Oshie, Johansson, Grubauer lift Caps over Sabres
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- T.J. Oshie and Marcus Johansson each scored a goal, Philipp Grubauer made 27 saves and the Washington Capitals beat the Buffalo Sabres 4-1 on Friday night for their third straight win.

Jakub Vrana and John Carlson also scored, helping Washington beat Buffalo for the third time in 15 days.

Kyle Okposo scored and Robin Lehner made 25 saves for Buffalo. The Sabres have lost three of their last four.

Oshie gave the Capitals a 1-0 lead 6:43 into the second period when he lifted a shot from the right edge of the crease past Lehner. Jay Beagle drew two defenders into the corner and sent the puck back to a wide open Oshie for his ninth goal of the season (see full story).