For years, the NFL justified a potential expansion of the regular season from 16 to 18 games by explaining that the preseason would be reduced from four games to two games, keeping the total number of games played at 20 per team — just like it was when the NFL played 14 regular-season games and six preseason games.
Now that the NFL has secured the ability to play 17 regular-season games, the question becomes whether to keep the total number of games at 20.
Seth Wickersham of ESPN.com reports that Commissioner Roger Goodell favors shrinking the preseason from four games to two. Some owners, including very influential ones like Robert Kraft of the Patriots, Jerry Jones of the Cowboys, John Mara of the Giants, and Art Rooney II of the Steelers, want three games.
The CBA allows the NFL to play up to three preseason games per team, in any year during which the regular season has 17 games. The question becomes whether teams will surrender the revenue from a third preseason game.
There’s a collective-bargaining component to this as well. Why voluntarily play two preseason games when the NFL has the right to stage three? That should be the carrot, frankly, to increasing the number of regular-season games to 18.
Maybe that’s where it all ends up, and maybe that’s where it needs to end up given the damage done by the pandemic. Eighteen and two, with at least 19 weeks of action and perhaps an effort to expand the number of windows, with maybe Sunday morning games, Monday doubleheaders, and prime-time games on Tuesday or Wednesday.