Tampa Bay Buccaneers
18-game year just a matter of time
TAMPA - Let's not harbor any illusions ... it's going to happen. Every time Roger Goodell starts pumping up a new proposition, the only relevant question becomes when - not if - it will be implemented. The NFL commissioner discussed annual regular-season overseas games and the next thing you knew, the Bucs were jetting off to Wembley Stadium for a London letdown against the Patriots. When Goodell became an advocate for a modified overtime format in March, the Competition Committee hastily called for an immediate vote that passed overwhelmingly.Tampa Bay's hopes of landing the 2014 Super Bowl were dashed last month in large part because Goodell supported the New York/New Jersey bid. That brings us to Goodell's latest foray into a new direction: say goodbye to the 16-game regular season. Sweet 16 has served us well since 1978, when the league dropped two exhibition matchups and added two games that counted. Now Goodell is determined to drop another two glorified scrimmages in exchange for an 18-game regular season. "It's clear the fans don't want four preseason games," he said. "It's clear the players don't want four preseason games." While it's difficult to argue with those assertions, that doesn't mean expanding to 18 regular-season games is a wonderful idea. According to the NFL, this proposed swap of two games is all about responding to fans who feel cheated for paying top dollar in August to see anonymous backups vying for spots on the final roster. Playing six exhibition games was silly and four is still too many, but two may not be enough. Let's make it three and call it a day. To make fair evaluations, coaches need to see prospects put it on tape in competitive situations. With starters expected to go at least a few preseason quarters, untested players may not get enough time to separate themselves. And given the league's renewed emphasis on player safety, the prospect of an 18-game regular season figures to result in even more injuries. There's also no guarantee those two additional games will turn out to be meaningful. Teams that clinch their conference's No. 1 playoff seed with a 13-2 record still will have three more weeks to rest their regulars and frustrate their fan base. An 18-game regular season would fundamentally transform the way we look at certain historical milestones, like the 1,000-yard rushing standard and 4,000 passing yards. A running back that doesn't miss a game would need to average only 56 yards each week to finish with 1,008 yards. When Jim Brown gained 1,527 yards in 1958, the Browns played a 12-game slate. "I like the format the way it is," Bears quarterback Jay Cutler said. "It's a long season as it is right now. Put two more games on top of it and you'd have to expand the rosters and do some other stuff to get players for it." By floating the idea of an 18-game schedule, the NFL has added another negotiating point to the stalled labor talks. Chicago GM Jerry Angelo says one of Goodell's main objectives in expanding the regular-season format is to ensure all 32 teams play one game overseas each season. As usual, following the money seems like a good way to analyze the proposal. More regular-season games mean more TV revenues in the pockets of NFL owners who claim their profits aren't what they used to be. Many players will balk - until they become convinced those enhanced revenue streams will trickle their way. "I like what we've got right now, but going to 18 games wouldn't hurt, either," Titans defensive tackle Jovan Haye, a former Buc, said to the Nashville Tennessean. "The preseason is necessary, but after those first two games, you're like, 'Wow, let's get the regular season going.' I'd prefer 18, not just because of the money but because it lets you get to football quicker."