With Commissioner Roger Goodell once again criticizing the quality of preseason play, expressly citing three preseason games as the possibly ideal balance, and citing the league’s collective bargaining obligations when adjusting the structure of the season, it could be that the league currently is hoping for an expansion of the regular season, by only one game.
For decades, the league has played 20 total games. Before 1978, the league applied a 14-and-6 split. The peg then slid to 16 and four. More recently, the league seemed to be posturing for a move to 18 and two.
The magic number may indeed be 17 and three. The removal of a week of meaningless games would be met with the addition of a weekend of games that count, along with the opportunity for all teams to play eight games at home, eight games on the road, and one neutral-site game. The end result would be 16 games that could be played in England, Mexico, China, wherever without any team losing a home game.
Also, with legalized gambling looming and with the NFL surely making plans for finding a way to capture some of that revenue (by among other things facilitating bets through the placement of links on NFL.com and team-owned websites), another week of regular-season games means an expansion from 256 opportunities to place wagers to 272.
If the NFL wants to cut the preseason from four games to three, it can do so without collective bargaining. But if the league wants to simply slide the peg to the 17-and-3 position, the union needs to buy in. The union, ideally, needs to offer the possibility without the league even asking, because the league now knows that whenever it mentions the possibility of expanding the regular season, it gets shouted down by players, media, and fans.
Legalized gambling, which the NFL has long opposed, is the key. The end result could be that the league goes kicking and screaming toward billions more in revenue, with some of that money being spent to make even more money through another weekend of games, maybe two more wild-card games, and eventually a Super Bowl played on President’s Day weekend.