Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

25 Feb 2011

18 Weeks, 16 Games

Our friends at the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective have an idea that could make all sides in the labor war happy: Play 16 games in 18 weeks.

Posted by: Bill Barnwell on 25 Feb 2011

50 comments, Last at 01 Mar 2011, 5:13pm by Jerry


by Shattenjager :: Fri, 02/25/2011 - 2:40pm
by Sjt (not verified) :: Fri, 02/25/2011 - 2:51pm

Not quite the same thing. I like this 2 bye week plan better.

by Sophandros :: Fri, 02/25/2011 - 4:15pm

That's actually one of the worst ideas ever from a fan's perspective.

Imagine that you're a Pats fan living in Phoenix. You see that the Pats are coming to town, so you fork over a hefty sum to take your kid to see Tom Brady play. However, since the Cardinals are not a divisional or conference opponent of the Pats, and since they're one of the teams that the Pats may afford to rest Brady against, that's one of the two games that they sit him in. So your money was just wasted.

Now, think of the gambling implications or the ways in which one team can screw a rival over by essentially throwing a game by sitting all of its best players in the same week. Doing something like this will drastically alter the competitive balance of the game--and for no good reason.

And when do they announce these forced inactives? During the week? A month in advance?

Sports talk radio and sports message boards are the killing fields of intellectual discourse.

by zlionsfan :: Fri, 02/25/2011 - 6:13pm

It might actually be the worst idea ever. To pfr's credit, it was listed as an Insane Idea, but I was surprised by how many people actually thought it had some merit.

by tuluse :: Fri, 02/25/2011 - 7:12pm

It's really terrible for another simple reason.

There are not 32 quarterbacks I trust to start a game in the NFL, much less the 64 needed if all the starters are unable to play 2 games a year.

by Spielman :: Fri, 02/25/2011 - 2:44pm

I like this. With two more games worth of teams each week compared to when they tried this in '93, and with how much more popular the NFL has become, it seems like a natural fit. Extend the season, give players more rest and recovery time, and the only downside is to non-football watching spouses across the country, who get another week of seeing their S.O. glued to the couch all of Sunday, Monday night, and sometimes Thursday.

by Kal :: Fri, 02/25/2011 - 2:43pm

I think they have to go to this model of some flavor at some point (at least the two bye weeks) to support the Thursday games better. The Thursday games suffer greatly from the less preparation time, as do the teams themselves. Having a bye before every thursday matchup for those teams would help tremendously.

by Spielman :: Fri, 02/25/2011 - 2:45pm

Nice point.

by Sjt (not verified) :: Fri, 02/25/2011 - 2:49pm

A very good point.

by BJR :: Fri, 02/25/2011 - 3:24pm

The Thursday games do often seem to be crap (not to put to fine a point on it), but I suspect a lot of it is to down to the fact that they aren't the premier match-ups of the week like we are used to watching on Sunday and Monday nights. They are also only broadcast late in the season, and I can recall watching a number of teams with very little to play for.

That's not to say lack of preparation time is not a factor, but that's life. The teams benefit from a bye week of sorts after a Thursday night game, so it cuts both ways.

by Kal :: Fri, 02/25/2011 - 3:41pm

I think that's part of it, but I also think that that can't explain everything. Remember 2009's game between Chicago and SF? Those teams weren't stellar last year but were decent, and a game between them should have been far less sloppy than it was.

Here's the schedule for this year:

November 11 8:20 p.m. Baltimore Ravens Atlanta Falcons
November 18 8:20 p.m. Chicago Bears Miami Dolphins
November 25 8:20 p.m. Cincinnati Bengals New York Jets
December 2 8:20 p.m. Houston Texans Philadelphia Eagles
December 9 8:20 p.m. Indianapolis Colts Tennessee Titans
December 16 8:20 p.m. San Francisco 49ers San Diego Chargers
December 23 8:20 p.m. Carolina Panthers Pittsburgh Steeler

Of these, only the Panthers turned out to be a dud. The games themselves often had big markets (Chi, NY, Philly) or fan favs (Indy, SF, Pittsburgh, Baltimore). Only a couple were blowouts; The Bal/Atl game was close, the Indy/TEn game was close, and even Philly/Houston was vaguely close.

Mostly, playing on such short rest cycles really can hurt a team and the players on it. It's really tough on the body to do heavy contact 4 days apart.

by GiantCandyBar (not verified) :: Fri, 02/25/2011 - 6:40pm

Come on, be honest.

Only Ravens-Falcons was a matchup between two playoff caliber teams.

The other matchups are all lopsided and hence not really attractive. Bengals 4-12, Texans never make the playoffs, Titans self-implosion, Panthers a complete joke. 49ers technically still in playoff contention at that time, but Chargers 49ers doesn't really look like a nailbiter on paper.

The NFL has royally screwed up the matchup selection (which I like since I am from Europe an the Thursday night slot is the worst slot for us here).

by Dennis :: Fri, 02/25/2011 - 6:53pm

But how many of them looked like good matchups before the season started? Just about all of them.

Ravens-Falcons were both expected to be good.
The Bears and Dolphins were both up and coming teams.
The Bengals and Jets both made the playoffs in 2009.
The Texans missed the playoffs on a tiebreaker and the Eagles were 11-5.
The Colts went to the Super Bowl and the Titans were expected to be playoff contenders.
The 49ers were picked by many to win their division and the Chargers were 13-3 in 2009.
The Panthers were 8-8 in 2009 and were expected to be decent and the Steelers were expected to be good.

Obviously it's the nature of the beast that some teams aren't going to be as good as expected, and it's impossible to predict which games are going to be "good". But before the season started, all of these games were reasonable picks for primetime games.

by IAmJoe (not verified) :: Sat, 02/26/2011 - 4:55am

I thought most of them looked like terrible matchups before the season, too. The issue is, the matchups involve a lot of teams with a tendency to completely shit the bed. Bengals, Bears, Texans, recent-year Titans, 49ers, Panthers are all teams that consistently shit the bed. Hell, that whole group doesn't even have any significant ratings pull. On top of that, why is an NFC West team on TV at all? There is no fathomable reason why an NFC West game of any kind should ever be broadcast on national TV outside of the playoffs.

If some of those teams come out into the season and suck, but you still have an alternate angle to work, then ok, maybe it can happen (i.e. even though MIN sucked this year, a MIN/GB game is still attractive viewing because of the storyline there). 5 of those 7 games are between teams not even in the same conference - there's not a rivalry to spin there. Of the two matchups featuring teams in the same conference, there's no particular rivalry between NYJ and CIN, so the only game here that has any storyline at all to sell is IND/TEN.

They were trash matchups from the get-go. Trying to point out the silver linings that existed before the start of the season (remember, all 32 teams have a silver lining) and using that as a way to justify the matchups is still just grasping at straws.

by BJR :: Sat, 02/26/2011 - 9:21am

They weren't terrible matchups on paper - just not the cherry-picked best matchups of the week like fans are accustomed to watching at primetime on Sunday and Monday nights, so likely to be letdown in comparison. Lets face it - there are quite a lot of so-so, run-of-the-mill games in the course of a season which you wouldn't go out of your way to watch unless you had a rooting interest, and several of those Thursday night games fall into that category.

The short week in the lead-up probably doesn't help matters, but I think some of those matchups wouldn't have produced exciting games on any day of the week.

by Will Allen :: Fri, 02/25/2011 - 2:56pm

Hell, if it puts enough t.v. cash on the table to avoid a work stoppage, do 16 games in 19 weeks. The NBA especially would hate to see the Super Bowl on the third Sunday in February, with the NCAA tourney right around the corner; it would be mid April, with baseball's opening day having already garnered attention, before the NBA got a big spotlight. Two more Sunday night, Monday night, Thursday night, and Sunday slates of afternoon games, however, might provide enough cash to make all NFL parties happy.

Sorry, Commissioner Stern.

by Chris Smart (not verified) :: Fri, 02/25/2011 - 3:03pm

I had this idea months ago - but it never gained any traction because no one cares what I think.

There is far too much football/weekend. With my DVR I have time for two games per weekend - maybe two & one-half if the wife is feeling tired on Sunday night - and yet there are usually four or five games sometimes more that I actually want to watch. Going to 18 weeks would: spread the game distribution out a bit and bring interesting/competitive football to deepest winter. Those 2 or 3 weeks between the conference championships and six nations are the low point of my year.

A few more ideas: (a) more programming off Sunday afternoon - especially Saturday night football (b) more programming on the holidays - I've got time off work and more help watching the kids - and there's no pro football to watch.

by The Ninjalectual :: Sun, 02/27/2011 - 4:15pm

I disagree completely. One of the best things about the NFL season is the madness of all the games being played at once. I can go to a sports bar and there are 5 or 6 games on at once, all within viewing distance of my seat! Sure, I can only really watch two or three at a time, but I can stop paying attention to one if it gets boring and start focusing on a different one that's shaping up to be exciting. Every NFL Sunday is as exciting as the entire "March Madness" basketball tournament. I LIKE all that football being squeezed into a small amount of time!

Football is all that's going on in my life on an NFL Sunday. I would be angry if I got punished because others made the poor choice of getting married and having kids. It sounds like you ought to subscribe to NFL Rewind if you want to spread your football out more.

by battlered90 (not verified) :: Fri, 02/25/2011 - 3:12pm

This doesn't seem like a new or unique idea. I don't think the labor issue is about generating more revenue. I think it is about the owners being greedy. This may be pessimistic and naive or it may be right on the button. Owners want more money. They want shiny new stadiums like Jerry Jones has in Dallas (which will in turn generate more money). I am pretty sick of the NFL spinning this as if it were pro fan. It is not. It is about 32 men getting what they want, when they want it.

by Sjt (not verified) :: Fri, 02/25/2011 - 4:38pm

Yes but the owners greed is what's causing the drive for more revenue. They see 2 extra games as more money in their pockets. Of course, they also come with increased costs and risks. This plan could split the difference: not quite as much new money as adding 2 games, but fewer costs and risk to offset. So they still get more profits, the players stay with 16 games, and as a bonus we get more football (overall) on any given tv set.

Of course, this may not be enough for the owners.

by thebuch :: Sat, 02/26/2011 - 6:09pm

Wait... Owners spend their lives working their way to the top, acquire millions of dollars, spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a football team, and they want to *gasp* make money? Who woulda thunk it! If someone came to you and said you could get paid 10% more if you could market your product more, wouldn't you take it?

Its funny, everyone faults the owners for being "greedy", but none of us is saying "I don't get paid enough".

By the way, you mean 31 men (or businesses) getting what they want, not 32.

by The Ninjalectual :: Sun, 02/27/2011 - 4:29pm

Nice straw man. No one is saying the owners are greedy because they want to make profit, people are saying they're greedy because they want to be the ONLY ones to make a profit, at the expense of the players ability to make money.

by DavidL :: Sun, 02/27/2011 - 5:17pm

Specifically, they're greedy for wanting to be *guaranteed* a profit, regardless of how well they actually run their franchises.

by Rabbit :: Sun, 02/27/2011 - 12:31pm

"Mark Murphy, chief executive of the National Football League’s only publicly traded franchise, said that despite a record $258 million in revenue, operating profit declined by more than half, to $9.8 million"

That's a 3.7% net profit margin for one of football's top franchises. As a comparison, per Yahoo, the entertainment industry as a whole sports a 13.7% NPM. I don't see any evidence of owner greed there. They all own a business they expect a reasonable profit from; nothing wrong with that.

by tuluse :: Sun, 02/27/2011 - 3:54pm

Yeah, they made over 20 million the year before and signed a bunch of players to huge contracts this past year.

What's the their average profit over the past five years? What is their expected profit next year (if they play with a CBA that looks like the current one).

by Rabbit :: Sun, 02/27/2011 - 4:44pm

What are you, a socialist? :)

Seriously, I'd enjoy the perks and all, but I wouldn't invest 1/2 billion for less than a 10% annual return. And that with GB, one of the NFL's better franchises, with no stadium debt, to boot. Imagine how much Davis loses every year just to embarrass himself?

by Kal :: Fri, 02/25/2011 - 3:51pm

That is a good side point. While this opens the possibility of higher TV revenues at some point, the TV contracts are already very high and very lucrative - but that won't help the owners that much. Adding more games that can be selling tickets will, and will directly help the owners (especially specific ones).

by Pat Swinnegan :: Fri, 02/25/2011 - 5:14pm

Right. And the impetus of the 18 game proposal seems tied to the league's desire to have additional games that they can stage at neutral sites, in external markets. The "16 games in 18 weeks" idea doesn't contribute anything there. Moreover, 16 games in 18 weeks has already been done by the NFL a few years back.

by Jacob Stevens (not verified) :: Fri, 02/25/2011 - 4:37pm

LOVE it. Who's gonna introduce this to the labor negotiations?

by Karma Coma :: Fri, 02/25/2011 - 5:26pm

As a fan, i would rather see more quality games than more games overall for every team. What i would most like to see is this:

3-game preseason
13-game regular season - 2 games against each divisional opponent and 1 game against the team that finished the same rank from every other NFL division.
8 teams per conference make the playoffs - 4 division winners, four wild cards
No byes
1-game Wild card & Divisional rounds
Best of 3 Conference & Championship round - one home, one away, one neutral, if needed.

Teams that didn't make the playoffs would be free to schedule a maximum of 4 games with other non-playoff teams on weekdays during the playoffs, but only playoff games would would be broadcast on the weekend. Ratings, advertising, attendance, etc would sort out exactly how much football the market can support.

As a concession to players, whatever post-season revenue is generated would be shared in equal percentage to their regular season pay.

Of course, it'll never happen that way.

by B :: Fri, 02/25/2011 - 5:47pm

Also, can they start the season one week later? That way I can have my dream of a Super Bowl on Presidents Day weekend.

by Floyd (not verified) :: Fri, 02/25/2011 - 6:21pm

The NFL (and the networks) do not want the Super Bowl on a holiday weekend. They want the game to be on a work night. If it was the night before a holiday, more people would be apt to leave the house and go to a Super Bowl party. This can not be allowed to happen. It does the networks no good if a Nielsen family decides to go down the street to their neighbor's Super Bowl blowout. They want to keep those Nielsen families in front of their own, metered TV sets. Can't have them going out. Having it on a work night keeps them in and the ratings up.

by Dennis :: Fri, 02/25/2011 - 6:55pm

Oh please. The ratings are going to be high regardless of when the game is. And any nielsen families lost becaue they are at a party are made up for by the parties that other nielsen families are hosting.

by Rhombus (not verified) :: Fri, 02/25/2011 - 5:52pm

Could they possibly do 17 or 18 games with two bye weeks? I understand that's a pretty big extension of the season, but it would give players more rest time while also giving the owners at least 2 more weeks worth of revenue. Obviously it doesn't deal with all the player's complaints, but that extra bye could help with injury recovery, fatigue, etc caused by the extra two games.

by dadler3 (not verified) :: Fri, 02/25/2011 - 6:29pm

I think the plan for the 18 week "enhanced season" is to have two bye weeks. The advantage to this proposal is that they could squeeze out a little more tv revenue without increasing injury risk.

by ppabich :: Fri, 02/25/2011 - 10:17pm

I'm not sure it's realistic, but Ross Tucker had an idea that I like. 17 game season with the one additional game an NFC-AFC game in a neutral location. The game could be played in London, Portland, Salt Lake City, Tokyo, Mexico City, etc. and a bye week the following week. It would be a great opportunity for the league to expand their brand, add only one additional game. I think this idea is at least probable and exciting.

by armchair journe... :: Mon, 02/28/2011 - 1:02pm

Mike Florio's been proposing that almost as long as he's had PFT. I think it is a fantastic idea... I think most fans would too, if it were on the table.

by The Ninjalectual :: Tue, 03/01/2011 - 3:11pm

This is the first time I heard of this, and I think that's an awesome compromise that both sides should be happy with.

by Jerry :: Tue, 03/01/2011 - 5:13pm

It's not that easy. Does Portland or Salt Lake City have an NFL-size (or quality) stadium? And while selling tickets to a Patriots-Saints game at a neutral site won't be hard, how about a Bills-Panthers matchup when there's no base of season ticket holders to start with?

by mm (not verified) :: Fri, 02/25/2011 - 8:31pm

As others have mentioned, this has been proposed before (I mentioned it a year or so ago).

One thing that helps harmony is that it would leave local revenue the same, while boosting national revenue (TV contracts) that is shared among all teams. One of the biggest problems right now is that there are big differences in local revenues. Since the salary cap numbers uses total revenues, it's harder for the small teams to profit under the last labor contract. This would reduce the gap (percentage-wise) in total revenues between teams.

Of course, some owners really like those local revenues.

by cisforcookie (not verified) :: Fri, 02/25/2011 - 9:38pm

I have a better idea. How about they extend the season to 20 games but change football from 4 quarters to 3 16 minute periods with 10 minute breaks between them. I mean let's be honest, nfl games are way too freaking long, so it's not like as a consumer we're losing anything. I just watch the games recorded and fast forward between plays, so it's not like I care if the number of commercials goes up. Plus I hate watching 4th quarters. If it's a close game, the defenses are gassed and the game becomes fairly unwatchable. if it's not a close game, people have already changed the channel. Much better to get more games that are shorter and feature more excitement than fewer games that suck. I would even be willing to buy into 32 games of 30 minutes apiece with each team playing twice a week.

by Raiderjoe :: Fri, 02/25/2011 - 11:18pm

I also will dirnk tongiht.

As for your idea, that's changign game too mcuh. Understand swhy you want it but it jsut never goign to happen in NFL. Maybe soem minor league could try it.

by The Ninjalectual :: Sun, 02/27/2011 - 4:40pm

How many games does one team spend the entire 4th quarter running out the clock anyway? This change would mean fewer comebacks.

by armchair journe... :: Mon, 02/28/2011 - 1:06pm

meh. sounds way too much like hockey. and who watches hockey?

i love 4th quarters. i normally fast forward through the 1st quarter, when most teams run their conservative, scripted first 15 plays. if we're going to get rid of a quarter, let's just begin the game in the 2nd. ;)

by BaronFoobarstein :: Fri, 02/25/2011 - 11:34pm

31 games over 40 weeks!

by Theo :: Sat, 02/26/2011 - 12:46am

I find it a pretty good solution.
Want more weeks of football? Sure, how many people watch every game anyway.
Finally some solution that had a brain intervened with it.

by QQ (not verified) :: Sat, 02/26/2011 - 5:17am

The outcry over the 2 extra games is a little exaggerated:

-1st will be 2 fewer Preseason Games. If you assume that is just 1 quarter per game for a team's starters, that means they are now down to 1.5 games more than normal.

-With 2 extra games, there is a greater probability that teams will have less to play for in the final week or 2 since the more games that are played the more teams are able to distance themselves in the standings. For many teams, week 18 wil be irrelevant which would place make the amount of extra time played by starters just 1/2 game.

by JonFrum :: Sat, 02/26/2011 - 1:51pm

Year round NFL. Start the season playing home games in southern cities to take advantage of early warm weather. Multiple bye weeks throughout the year. When it gets hot in the south, shift to home games for northern cities. When winter approaches, go back to the south. After the Super bowl, go straight to the Combine, followed quickly by the draft. A week after the draft is over, camp starts.

More time for injuries to heal, more down time for players with concussions to come back without risk of successive injury.

by Roscoe :: Sun, 02/27/2011 - 4:48pm

One point the idea misses is stadium revenue. As the TV and apparel sales money is split evenly between the teams, the only money the owner gets to keep for himself is what comes out of the stadium. Changing the makeup of the games from 16 regular 4 preseason to 18 regular 2 preseason increases the value of the season tickets, makes them easier to sell, and this money goes directly to the owner's bottom line. Not to mention that more people show up for the regular season games, meaning that the owner sells more beer, hotdogs and hats.

by PantsB (not verified) :: Mon, 02/28/2011 - 11:31am

I think what we're going to see is 18 games over 20 weeks. They'll move the Super Bowl one week later and start the week before Labor Day weekend (I don't think they really care about giving college football a free pass). Or they might move the Super Bowl forward two weeks and start Labor Day weekend. That gives them 20 weeks of TV money + playoffs games, alleviates some of the injury concerns and makes it easier to send games abroad and have Thursday games.