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Goodbye 8-8 teams, hello playoff triple-headers: NFL CBA ushers in new normal

Dan Wetzel

NFL players ratified a new collective bargaining agreement with the league on Sunday. 

There was a little drama because established stars were against it and the rank and file were for it. It passed just 1,019-959, or by 60 of 1,978  votes. We could have used one of those magic voting walls the cable news networks use to break it all down.

In the end, however, very little of that has any impact on actual fans of the league. 

Players will continue to get paid … a lot. Owners will continue to make … a lot. The rest is details for the lawyers and the accountants.

That said, this was a CBA that will alter the sport in significant ways. Let’s start with the basics.

Labor peace

The deal runs through 2030, so not only should there be no lockouts or strikes, we also don’t have to deal with another labor negotiation for nearly a decade. This also allows the league to negotiate new media deals with certainty over the labor agreement. While these are clearly uncertain and hard to predict times in the country, those deals should increase overall revenue and the salary cap.

If you are Patrick Mahomes, waiting to sign that new deal after next season is a good idea.

The 17th game

The jokes are everywhere. In 2021, when a 17-game schedule goes into effect, no team will ever finish 8-8 again … “so now the Detroit Lions have nothing to dream of” … or … “does this mean Jeff Fisher is banned from coaching” … and so on.

The extra game, though, is significant. 

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes could rewrite the record books with an extra regular season game and potential extra playoff game. (Photo by Nick Tre. Smith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

If nothing else, it’s one more weekend of football to watch for fans. That probably will be well received, although there is certainly a limit to how long a regular season can last and still have nearly every game be relevant. 

For players, a 17th game – and week of prep – adds to the grind of the season. However it is mitigated by a decrease of 12 padded practices during training camp. In the cumulative, that is a lot less full-contact hits a player takes over the course of a season and a career. 

It also is expected to cause the elimination of the fourth preseason game – a development no one other than special team players on the cutline will miss. 

Season kickoff

Nothing is yet finalized but it seems like that starting in 2021, the NFL season will begin on Labor Day weekend, not the following week. Currently that weekend serves as the kickoff for (most of) college football. This way the playoffs and Super Bowl remain on the current schedule.

It’s probably not a big deal, and might even be embraced by fans who will enjoy that the first NFL Sunday is followed by a national holiday. It is a small encroachment of fall into summer, however.

The record book

A 17th game should cause the regular season record book (and eventually the career record book) to be rewritten. A QB only needs to average 294.2 yards a game to throw for 5,000, for instance. A thousand yards rushing used to be a huge accomplishment during the old 14-game season (71.4 per game). It’s currently just 62.5 yards a game. It’ll soon drop to 58.8. 

If there’s ever another Tom Brady, who has 18 seasons where he started nearly every game, the extra game every year would give that quarterback another season-plus to pad career numbers over the current and former guys. 

Home-field advantage

The math is simple: With 17 games to be played, half of the league will have an extra home date – minus the international games (more on that in a second). It will certainly be beneficial to have nine home and eight road games rather than the opposite, and it could play a role in the playoff chase.

In a league obsessed with “fairness”, how is that fair?

International games

None of this is in the CBA, but an extra game will allow the NFL to at least play around with the idea of additional games outside of the United States. There are now a full 16 extra games per year. Could the league just make them all international games and keep the eight home/eight road game splits?

Then they could spread those 16 games around the globe, which seems more logistically sound than just adding a franchise in London. 

More games in London, or other international cities, could be on tap for the NFL. (Photo by Martin Leitch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Play four or even six games in London, expand the Mexico City slate to four (or add another Mexico market), add games in mainland Europe, Brazil or other places. Who knows, really? Maybe even take games to football-mad, non-NFL cities in the United States (say, a Dallas Cowboys game at the University of Arkansas or Oklahoma or Texas). 

There is now a lot of so-called inventory to work with. These ideas might be better for long-term growth and schedule balance than just one more home date.

Expanded playoffs

Each conference will add a wild card team, meaning seven teams (not six) will reach the playoffs. It also means only the No. 1 seed will get a bye; the other three division champions will host a wild-card team. The chase for that No. 1 seed will be significant.

This does water down the playoffs – last season the 9-7 Los Angeles Rams and 8-8 Pittsburgh Steelers would have made the field. The Steelers would have skidded in on a three-game losing streak. 

However, it also increases the number of teams with something to play for deep into the December postseason chase. And with the elimination of a bye, it means two additional good teams (Green Bay and Kansas City last year) would play an additional game. Who’s against an extra Aaron Rodgers playoff game in Lambeau or Mahomes in Arrowhead?

Time will tell on the full impact here, but there are some trade-offs that hint the extra playoff teams could be embraced quickly enough. 

The triple-header

The best of those trade-offs? Who is against a weekend with back-to-back triple-header playoff action? That’s how wild wild-card weekend is about to get.

In the end, it’s more football. Here’s guessing that once it becomes habit, very few fans will long for the days of less.

Regardless, the CBA is in. To use a phrase that is common these days, this is our new (football) normal.

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