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What if the NFL expanded to an 18-game schedule? What would it look like if it happens?

The NFL has been in early discussions of going to an 18-game schedule, which won’t happen for a few years. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell even admitted the leagueΒ was considering the possibility earlier this offseason. The push to eventually go to 18 games hasn’t been abandoned by the league, although the current CBA doesn’t expire until March of 2031.Β 

The league does eventually want to move to 18 games, but the CBA has a restriction of going past 17 games until it expires. The league wouldn’t see an 18-game schedule until 2031 at the earliest. The deal also limits the number of international games the league can hold to 10 in any season through 2025.

Why the talk of an 18-game schedule if it can’t happen for another seven years? With the NFL schedule release this week, let’s take a look at how the league could change in 2031 with an 18-game schedule — and some ideas floated around that could work.Β 

Labor Day weekend games

The NFL is going to have to add an extra week to the schedule somewhere with the 18th game. Playing a week deeper into January is feasible, but the best option would be to return to playing games on Labor Day weekend. The NFL hasn’t played on Labor Day weekend since 2000, opting to have the last “unofficial weekend of summer” off and start playing on the second Sunday of September.Β 

If the NFL would move to Labor Day weekend, the league could play on the first Friday of September with the probation of Friday and Saturday games not starting until the second week of September. The NFL could actually play games each day from Thursday through Monday.Β 

Labor Day football may be back as a result of an 18th game.Β 

Midseason bye (All-Star Week)

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow had a very interesting concept in regards an 18th game being added to the schedule. The entire league has a week off at some point during the season, making that week an “All-Star Week.” The NFL could host the Pro Bowl games or a Pro Bowl that involves flag football in the middle of the season.

Giving the players a week off would be massive if the league wants to keep around its all-star game. The Pro Bowl would be more relevant in the middle of the year. The league could play nine weeks then have a week off for the Pro Bowl before playing the other nine weeks, incorporating the byes in the second half of the season.

The league did try two bye weeks in 1993, but never had a universal bye week. This is a way to keep the 20-week season afloat.

Two bye weeks

Each team would get their own bye week in addition to the universal bye week in the middle of the season. The league can use those bye weeks from Weeks 5 through 7 in the first half and Weeks 13 through 15 in the second half, setting up a frantic finish from Weeks 16 through 19. Remember the “all-star week” is its own week, so the schedule would resume in Week 10 and would go to Week 19 with the bye week.Β 

Assuming the season would start Labor Day weekend, the playoffs would still start the third week of January. Two byes can still be accomplished.Β 

Two preseason games

The NFL likes to play 20 games (see the 17 regular season games and three preseason game format they have now). That means the preseason would be reduced from three games to two with the addition of the 18th regular season game.

The preseason would still begin the second weekend in August and end on the third weekend (instead of the fourth). A quick and efficient preseason may be what the NFL needs.Β 

International games

Beginning in 2025, the NFL will be able to schedule up to eight international regular season games per season. The current CBA allows up to 10, but perhaps that’s expanded in the next CBA (Goodell even hinted at 16 games in 10 years). International games may not be scheduled after Week 14 of the NFL season, which would likely remain around the same in the new CBA.

The NFL likes to get the international games played early in the season, making way for the earlier proposition of the Weeks 5 through 7 bye weeks to take place. They could also play international games later in the year, pending on the amount of international games the league chooses to have.Β 

More prime-time games, days to play

More football means more prime-time windows. Mentioned earlier was games played Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday of Labor Day weekend — but what else could the NFL have in store?Β 

The NFL has already planted a flag on Christmas this year by playing games on a Wednesday, opening up that whole week for games. The league already has three games on Thanksgiving and a game on Black Friday. Could they try the Wednesday before Thanksgiving?Β 

A 19-week season means another Saturday window in January, something the league would certainly entertain. More inventory means more revenue for the league.Β 

Super Bowl on President’s Day weekend

A later finish to the NFL regular season would mean the Super Bowl would have to be pushed back until the third weekend of February — President’s Day weekend (most people have President’s Day off). The third weekend in February extends the season, but could garner higher ratings for the league with that Monday off for most people.Β 

It would be weird seeing conference championship weekend in February, but it’s a change that would be overlooked once fans get used to it. There also won’t be a lull between the Super Bowl and the NFL Scouting Combine — the next major event on the calendar.

A massive win for the NFL, which has mastered the year-round concept.Β 

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Author: Jeff Kerr
May 14, 2024 | 8:21 am

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