It was the worst-kept secret, and the NFL owners have been pushing for this for years. But this week the NFL will make the 17th game official. The players hate it (see Alvin Kamara), but some are kind of shocked that they agreed to this in the latest CBA. Communication is not the NFLPA’s strong suit, it seems. The 17th game is the sweetener the league used to get more billions out of the four networks and the streaming service that will televise its games. And yet the salary cap is remaining flat. Strange, no?
We’ve been over how silly a 17th game is, simply because it’s not an even number. The NFL has just about the most balanced schedule of the four major sports, and a 17th game will only move them farther away from that. That’s before you get into the added injuries, shorter careers, and the imbalance between home and road games.
It’s the last one that the league could solve. Make every team’s 17th game a neutral site one. It’s not as outlandish as it sounds. The league already exports a handful of games to England and Mexico every season, so it’s already part of the way there. There are certainly enough prime destinations for fans to mark the calendars and go. And I’ve seen Bears fans drink Nashville out of Miller Lite, so don’t tell me that two traveling bands of fans couldn’t fill stadiums in Vegas or Miami or wherever.
The real appeal would be in the creative venues. South Bend and Ann Arbor have already been used for NHL Winter Classics. No reason they couldn’t be used for NFL games. There are various others around that would make for cool events and make fans’ travel plans for them.
It would also balance everything. Eight home games, eight road games, one neutral site. Teams wouldn’t have to worry about competing for divisions or top seeds or wild cards with teams that got an extra home game that they didn’t, especially if battling teams that have a serious home advantage, like Green Bay (they don’t lose at home until the playoffs) or Seattle or Vegas probably will.
It sounds like a logistical nightmare, but it can be easily done. Not that the NFL needs an “attraction” like the NHL does to attract viewers to a big occasion. But the NFL can get away with trying anything, such as this pretty ridiculous 17th game.
Bears and Broncos in Lincoln, Nebraska? Fuck it, why not? What does the league really have to lose?