Roger Goodell reignited the conversation about a 17-game regular season this week. At the conclusion of the fall owners meetings, the NFL commissioner admitted that angle is part of the collective bargaining agreement conversations.
How will that happen? Who knows. An unbalanced, 8-9/9-8 rotating road-home split per season is an option. So is trimming the preseason. There is also some talk of implementing a “double bye.”
Frankly, if more money-making games have to be created from a league point of view to generate revenue, I’d prefer that they stick with a 16-game schedule and expand the playoffs by one team in each conference. But that may not generate enough income for those poor, cash-strapped billionaire owners.
An option that has been increasingly kicked around is to go to 17 games but keep each team with eight road games and eight home games per season. Then have each team play a neutral-site game against an annual crossover opponent from the opposite conference.
In other words, AFC-NFC would be like ACC Coastal-ACC Atlantic. Your favorite team would play its designated four games against every division in the other conference, every four years. But you’d also see them have an annual constant opponent that they’d play every season at a prearranged neutral location.
Kinda like Pitt plays Syracuse every season, even though they are in opposite ACC divisions. Except imagine them playing in Erie annually instead of flip-flopping between Heinz Field and the Dome.
Of course, the one minor hitch would be that they’d play twice per season every four years for the normally scheduled divisional rotation matchup. Each club would continue to alternate visits to the opposing stadium every eight years.
In some cases, the matchups would be easy to draw up. However, the well comes up dry pretty quickly. Here are the best ideas I could create.
Steelers vs. Eagles: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Every year in State College.
Well, if Penn State would allow it, of course. The Nittany Lions would have to deign to allow the NFL product onto the hallowed turf of Beaver Stadium.
The Penn State Blue Band would play “Renegade” once per game and “Fly, Eagles, Fly” after Philadelphia scores.
Ravens vs. Redskins: Baltimore Ravens vs. Washington Redskins
Every year at Maryland Stadium in College Park.
Just 12 miles from Fed Ex Field and 31 miles from M&T Bank Stadium.
Texans vs. Cowboys: Houston Texans vs. Dallas Cowboys
This one is a no-brainer, too. Except in this case, the neutral rivalry could rotate between various sites in Austin, College Station, San Antonio, Lubbock and Waco.
And, of course, Bud Kilmer Stadium in West Canaan.
Dolphins vs. Bucs: Miami Dolphins vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Similar concept in Florida.
Bounce it between Camping World Stadium, Doak Campbell Stadium and Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
Go old school at Florida Atlantic for all I care.
Raiders vs. 49ers: Oakland Raiders vs. San Francisco 49ers
Rotate stadiums each year, maybe? Berkeley? Palo Alto? The yard at Alcatraz?
Jets vs. Giants: New York Jets vs. New York Giants
They don’t even need to leave MetLife Stadium. Rotate the home-road tickets, suites, parking and amenities each season. Keep the location the same.
Chargers vs. Rams: Los Angeles Chargers vs. Los Angeles Rams
Once SoFi Stadium opens up, see above.
Browns or Bengals vs. Lions: Cleveland Browns (or Cincinnati Bengals) vs. Detroit Lions
In even years, the Lions go to Ohio Stadium to play the Browns (or Bengals). In odd years, the Browns (or Bengals) go to Ann Arbor.
Colts vs. Bears: Indianapolis Colts vs. Chicago Bears
At Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Ind.?
Sure. Close enough.
Broncos vs. Seahawks: Denver Broncos vs. Seattle Seahawks
Renew this defunct AFC West rivalry. Play it every year on the blue turf at Lyle Smith Field at Boise State.
Or you could get creative here. Rotate years when the Seahawks are the quasi-“home” team in Eugene, Portland, Corvallis, Western Canada, Pullman or Husky Stadium.
When the Broncos are the “home” team, they could play in Boulder, Fort Collins, Provo, Salt Lake City or Colorado Springs.
Or even South Park. Whenever the Cows are on the road, of course.
Pats vs. Falcons: New England Patriots vs. Atlanta Falcons
It’s tough to find an NFC foe for the Pats if the Eagles and Giants are spoken-for already.
So how about these two clubs meet annually in Houston, at the scene of Super Bowl LI. And every year, the NFL spots the Falcons a 28-3 lead at kickoff, and we just see what happens.
Also, every year, the game must start at 3:28 p.m.
If the Falcons balk at that idea — and they just might — here’s another possible pairing for Atlanta.
How about the Falcons get paired with the Jacksonville Jaguars? Those teams could play the Sunday after the “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” between Georgia and Florida.
Sure. It’d be at the Jaguars home stadium every year. But, c’mon. Does that really matter?
Beyond those games, that’s all I’ve got. The other matchups are going to have to be pretty manufactured. And who knows, maybe the NFL will just stick them in international cities to “expand the footprint” of the league.
Which, let’s face it, is what they are angling for anyway.