Why the NFL will regret having a 17-game regular season

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BY MICHAEL MACCAMBRIDGE

There are 162 regular-season games in a full season of baseball, 82 in the NBA and the NHL, 38 in England’s Premier League, 34 in Major League Soccer and the WNBA, 24 in the National Women’s Soccer League, 22 in the UK’s Premiership Rugby league, and 18 in the National Lacrosse League. It’s not a coincidence that all those figures, across all those sports, are all even numbers. Because one of the first principles of fairness in professional sports is that teams competing have an equal number of home and road games. It’s basic, fundamental component of virtually all leagues.

Except, it seems, the National Football League.

Starting in 2021, in all likelihood, the NFL will move to a 17-game regular season, as permitted in the new collective bargaining agreement signed in March, meaning some teams will have eight home games and some will have nine. In a league whose competition thrives on fine margins, the resulting advantage or disadvantage could be significant.

But for reasons that go far beyond that, the near-inevitable move to a 17-game regular season next year strikes me as the single most troubling competitive change the league has made in more than 30 years, at least since the decision, in the midst of the 1987 strike, to use replacement players to play games that would count in the standings.

This latest move was not exactly buried but also didn’t get a lot of attention when the latest extension to the CBA was announced. The addition of a seventh playoff team in each conference (starting this season) seemed to get more coverage, but I’m convinced that a 17th regular season game will have a more profound effect on the league.

The 17th game is the product of the league’s architects putting an unending desire for more revenue ahead of every other potential consideration, including safety, competitive balance, optics, and common sense. The change is, in a word, dispiriting.

Over the past fortnight, I’ve talked with more than a half-dozen football people whose opinions I respect—two Super Bowl-winning former coaches, two owners, two general managers and a longtime league executive (many of whom asked that their comments be off the record or not for attribution)—and not a single person seemed enthusiastic about the 17th game, each of them recognizing that the change happened for one reason only.

“I don’t see the rationale for it other than it brings in more revenue,” said Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy. “And I think that’s why the players agreed to it, that’s why the owners want it. It’s not something, I don’t think, the fans are demanding. I think people love our regular season, because the games are meaningful. I could understand maybe expanding the playoffs, but to add an odd number of regular-season games makes zero sense to me.”

Even the two owners I spoke to, who supported a 17th game, seemed wholly unenthusiastic, citing the need for more revenue.

“Do I prefer it for the game? I do not,” said one.

As the former Ravens coach and NFL Network analyst Brian Billick put it, after talking with dozens of coaches over the past couple of months, “I’ve not heard of anybody who likes it.”

There are so many things to dislike about a 17-game schedule, and many unintended consequences that could ensue, but I think the biggest concern involves player safety, both the reality and the perception of it.

The greatest problem pro football has faced this century is what to do about the physical trauma that the game exerts on players. There is still much research to be done, and the answers are not as clear-cut as the film “Concussion” would have you believe (read Ingfei Chen’s story in the New Yorker from earlier this year). But it remains an existential challenge that has to be faced at every level of football, from Pop Warner to the NFL.

The one thing we already know is that the players who put their bodies on the line every week are taking significant risks which can and often will affect their long-term health. Because of the riches the game offers and the powerful sense of camaraderie it can provide, it’s a risk they willingly take. Without knowing exactly what the long-term effects are, the risk/reward ratio remains necessarily murky.

But surely the answer is NOT to play more games. The NFL has been bewildering, and at times tone-deaf, on this issue for years. Before offering up a 17-game schedule, Commissioner Roger Goodell and other league leaders floated the idea of an 18-game schedule, while reducing the preseason to two games. This, then, is a half-measure in the wrong direction.

“It’s duplicitous,” said Billick. “We hear ‘safety safety safety’ from the owners, and then how do you justify adding another game now?”

One owner I spoke to gamely made the case that, with the preseason likely cut from four games to three, teams would still be playing 20 games across the preseason and regular season. But that argument doesn’t hold up to scrutiny; veterans rarely play in the preseason, so they are trading a game they aren’t playing in for one that they will. Another owner noted that there are far fewer days of contact in practice and training camp than a decade ago, which is certainly true. But there’s also no contact like game contact, and a 17th game adds to that.

What I think those in the league—both players and owners—are missing is the way this move sends a mixed message to fans concerned about safety, and breeds a kind of cynicism, making those concerns expressed by both players and owners at least sound hollow.

“I don’t want to hear another word from the players complaining about health issues,” said one rabid fan I know, after the deal was ratified. Indeed, it seems inexplicable that an NFLPA keenly aware of all the issues involving player safety would recommend their membership add games to an already staggering workload.

My guess is the NFL and the NFLPA settled on a solution no one likes because neither side was confident a more reasonable solution could be hammered out in the months ahead. There seems to be a lack of trust on both sides.

So the owners gave the players a package in which a 17th game was tied to more jobs and more benefits, but essentially made clear that it was a take-it-or-leave-it proposal, and the NFLPA accepted, albeit by a narrow margin (1,019 to 959). The rules that will govern football for the next decade—especially one adding a game to the schedule—should have had more than 52% support of the players.

I understand the desire to grow the game, and the quest for more revenue. But even here, there was a safer, more sensible alternative. What the 17th game will do is add an 18th week of “inventory” for the networks. But the league could have done the same thing and still kept the schedule at 16 games, simply by giving each team in the league a second bye week. If that had been done, it could have been accompanied by a stipulation that the additional bye week would always fall before each team’s Thursday night game, so no team was ever taking the field on three days’ rest. (The Players Association, I’m told, has been opposed to a bye week prior to a Thursday game, because then players don’t get a full week off, although that could be legislated as well.)

One owner insisted there’s no data to suggest injuries occur at a higher rate in the Thursday night games. But the fact remains that many fans perceive the Thursday games as poorly played, and almost all players hate playing on the short week.

“What’s the physical toll?,” asks Billick about the Thursday games on short rest. “I don’t think you can quantify the cumulative effect.”

Concussed NFL player
Will NFL players be more at risk for injury with additional games? (Getty Images)

At the root of all this is the unloved institution of preseason games, which are baked into the NFL’s economic model. You could write a graduate thesis on the decline of exhibition games in American sports. Remember the College All-Star Game that used to begin the football schedule? Remember when Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game was the biggest sports event of the summer? Remember when people used to care about the Pro Bowl? (More recently, do you remember when people used to tackle at the Pro Bowl?)

It’s not too late. The league could still decide to stay at 16 games. But no one in football thinks they will. And whether you’re an NFL owner, an NFL player or an NFL fan, that’s a negative development.

The next TV contracts will be bigger, but the game won’t be better, the players won’t be safer, the regular season won’t be more compelling, and the league’s stranglehold on its position as America’s most popular sport will not be solidified.

To paraphrase Humphrey Bogart in “Casablanca,” if the NFL goes to a 17-game schedule, the caretakers of the league will regret it. Maybe not in ’21 or ’22 but soon, and for the rest of their lives.

Dungy sees the writing on the wall. Invoking George Young, the Hall of Fame Giants GM and later league executive, Dungy recalled, “George Young used to always talk about, when we’d have a rule change, that ‘the camel is getting its nose under the tent,’ and when we let the camel’s nose get under the tent, nothing good can happen; the tent is eventually gonna tip over, right? And there will be talk in a couple of years about an 18th game, and then there’ll be talk about a 19th game. And so I would have fought it a little harder as a player. But, in the end, the owners won out by telling them how much more revenue they could make.”

Read more from Football Morning in America here.

What to know about the 2023 Pro Bowl: Dates, how to watch/live stream info, AFC, NFC coaches, competition schedule, and more

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The 2023 NFL Pro Bowl will take place over the course of two days at Allegiant Stadium–home of the Las Vegas Raiders–in Paradise, Nevada. The excitement begins on Thursday, February 2 as NFL fan-favorites compete in a brand-new skills challenge featuring the following events: Epic Pro Bowl Dodgeball, Lightning Round, Longest Drive, Precision Passion, and Best Catch.

Sunday, February 5 will feature the following: the Best Catch Finale, Gridiron Gauntlet, Kick Tack Toe, Move the Chains, and three seven-on-seven non-contact Flag football games between the league’s best players.

See below for additional information on how to watch the 2023 Pro Bowl as well as answers to all of your frequently asked questions.

RELATED: What to know about Super Bowl 2023 – Date, location, halftime performance info, and much more

Who are the coaches for the 2023 Pro Bowl?

AFC Coaches:

  • Peyton Manning – Head Coach
  • Ray Lewis – Defensive Coordinator
  • Diana Flores – Offensive Coordinator

NFC Coaches:

  • Eli Manning – Head Coach
  • Demarcus Ware – Defensive Coordinator
  • Vanita Krouch – Offensive Coordinator

How will the 2023 Pro Bowl be different from previous editions of the event?

Rather than the traditional tackle football game, this year’s Pro Bowl will debut a skills competition and a non-contact flag football game.

How will scoring work?

According to the NFL, points will be calculated in the following way:

  • The winning conference of each skill competition earns three points towards their team’s overall score, with 24 total points available across the eight skills events.
  • The winning conference from each of the first two Flag football games on Sunday will earn six points for their team, for a total of 12 available points.
  • Points from the skills competitions and first two Flag games will be added together and will be the score at the beginning of the third and final Flag game, which will determine the winning conference for The Pro Bowl Games.

How to watch the 2023 Pro Bowl:

  • Where: Allegiant Stadium in Paradise, Nevada
  • When: Thursday, February 2 (7:00 PM ET) and Sunday, February 5 (3:00 PM ET)
  • TV Channel: ESPN, ABC, and Disney XD

When is Super Bowl 2023?

Super Bowl 2023 takes place on Sunday, February 12 at 6:30 p.m. ET on Fox.

Where is Super Bowl 2023?

Super Bowl 2023 will be contested at State Farm Stadium–home of the Arizona Cardinals– in Glendale, Arizona.

What teams are playing in Super Bowl 2023?

The Philadelphia Eagles will face the Kansas City Chiefs marking the first time since 2017 that both top seeds qualified for the Super Bowl.


Follow along with ProFootballTalk for the latest news, storylines, and updates surrounding the 2022 NFL Season, and be sure to subscribe to NFLonNBC on YouTube!

Super Bowl food 2023: Appetizer, entrée, and dessert ideas for Super Bowl LVII inspired by the Eagles and Chiefs

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As the countdown continues toward Super Bowl LVII, the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs are getting their game plans set. But while they go over their plays, the rest of America goes over their menus in preparation for the big day. When it comes to the Super Bowl, everything is always the best — the best teams, the best performers and, of course, the best food.

But how can you impress your party in the kitchen while showing support for your favorite team? Let’s take a look at some iconic food from each of the Super Bowl team cities to prepare for Super Bowl LVII.

RELATED: What to know about Super Bowl LVII: Date, location, how to watch

Philadelphia Super Bowl food

Crabfries

Why have plain old fries when you could have crabfries? That’s exactly what Pete Ciarrocchi, the CEO of the legendary Philadelphia restaurant Chickie and Pete’s, said one day when creating this intriguing concoction.

While the name may be misleading, crabfries do not contain any actual crab, but rather a blend of spices and Old Bay seasoning that allow the dish to take on a subtle seafood flavor. Topped with a creamy, cheesy dipping sauce, the crinkle-cut fries are sure to take your taste buds to the next level.

Cheesesteak sloppy joes

It simply isn’t Philly without a cheesesteak. Keep it casual in your kitchen on Super Bowl Sunday with Katie Lee Biegel’s Philly Cheesesteak sloppy joes, an easy way to rep the Birds.

Can’t get enough of the cheesesteak? Bring some more Philly specials to the table with this cheesesteak dip, the perfect way to amp up your appetizer game and leave party guests feeling like they just took a trip to the City of Brotherly Love.

RELATED: Rob Gronkowski predicts Eagles to win Super Bowl LVII

Water ice

Is the action of the game heating up? Cool down with a classic Philly treat, water ice. First originating in Bensalem, Pennsylvania in 1984, the icy dessert is now sold in over 600 stores nationwide. The original Rita’s Water Ice shop, however, still remains open for business.

You can even show a little extra passion for the Birds by whipping up this green apple variation, sure to leave you refreshed and ready for the Lombardi.

Kansas City Super Bowl food

Cheese slippers

If you’re looking for a classy, yet authentic appetizer to bring to the table, there’s no better fit than the cheese slipper. This ciabatta loaf baked with melty cheeses and topped with seasonal vegetables and herbs has Kansas City natives hooked.

While the bread is typically baked to perfection by local shops, test your own skill level with this gourmet slipper bread recipe that you can complete with the mouth-watering toppings of your choice.

RELATED: How many Super Bowls have the Chiefs been to, won?

BBQ burnt ends

It’s rare to hear the words Kansas City without barbeque following short after. If you’re looking to impress your guests with your Super Bowl food spread, get out to the grill and start showing off.

While many cities in America know how to cook up some excellent BBQ, the combination of the sweet flavors and mouth-watering sauce has made Kansas City a hub for barbeque lovers for decades.

BBQ burnt ends, while a bit time-consuming, are  well worth a little elbow grease. The dish is also one of the few in Kansas City with a distinct origin story. The meal first found its creation at Arthur Bryant’s Barbeque, a legendary African American restaurant in KC. Bryant originally made the burnt ends from the trimmings of pork belly, but since then, BBQ lovers have made incredible bites out of many styles of meat.

And if you’re feeling extra ambitious, try fixing up some classic Kansas City sides to pair with your entrée to perfection.

RELATED: What to know about Rihanna, the Super Bowl LVII halftime performer

Chiefs chocolate chip cookies

While there is no specific dessert that defines the Heart of America, you can still show your Kansas City pride with these ever-colorful Chiefs chocolate chip cookies.

Make sure to have your food dye handy, because the red and yellow hue of these cookies are sure to show everyone whose side you are on.

Or, if you’re feeling artistic, design an eye-catching Chiefs jersey out of the fan-favorite rice krispie treats. Whether you make Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce or Chris Jones, you’ll have the tastiest Super Bowl jerseys around.

How to watch the Super Bowl 2023 – Philadelphia Eagles vs Kansas City Chiefs:

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