“18 Games Lite”: Too Clever By Half

In their continuing quest to chisel an 18-game regular-season schedule into the next collective bargaining agreement, the owners have proposed an interesting if confusing caveat:

That each individual player be allowed to play only 16 games — an idea that sounds like it was borrowed from fantasy football.

But would it work in reality? The permutations are endless.

Let's say, for instance, that this was in effect for this season — when, in Week 8, the Saints host the Cardinals, pretty much the biggest mismatch possible on this year's schedule. What if Sean Payton decided that the Saints could win this game without Drew Brees, and benched him?

And what if a coach like Payton or Bill Belichick decided to roll the dice and assume that they will enter their regular-season finale with the top playoff seed in their conference already clinched, and could use up any remaining mandatory benchings in that game?

Meanwhile, at the other end of the standings, "18 Games Lite" could be used by an unscrupulous coach — or general manager — to bench players en masse, in the hope of moving up in the draft, which is probably why this proposal shouldn't even be considered without implementing a draft lottery system as well.

Then there is the betting aspects of all this.

With sports betting, including betting on NFL games, already having expanded beyond Nevada to New Jersey, Delaware, and other states, and more states sure to follow, the deadline for each team to submit their "Will Not Play" list for that week will have to be set at some specific time, at least 24 hours before kickoff. Otherwise it will wreak havoc with the sports books — to whom the NFL is joined at the hip whether the league likes it or not.

Injuries also play a key role here: if a player sustains so much as a hangnail, teams will be tempted to declare him out just to use up his two mandatory cannot-play games. And what about suspended players? If they are kept on the regular roster and not placed on one of the numerous "lists" that each team has at their disposal, doesn't that take care of them?

That's a lot of wrinkles which would need to be ironed out before the finished product could go on the field. It would be far simpler to merely raise every player's salary by 12.5% across the board — 18 being 12.5% more than 16 — and the owners would still come out ahead because 20 (the number of weeks there would be in the regular season if each team is given a second bye week, a virtual certainty) is 17.6% more than 17, the number of regular-season weeks there are now.

And with a 20-game regular season and that totally useless week off between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl eliminated, the Super Bowl would end up being played on the Sunday of the Presidents Day weekend, making "Super Bowl Monday" a holiday for if not all, then at least certainly a great many.

In the final analysis, "18 Games Lite" would inject an element of baseball-like "analytics" into a sport for which that approach is not all suited (and speaking of analytics, how ya doing in Philly, Gabe? Do you still have your job? I know you wouldn't if the fans there had their way!).

So while this plan would certainly be more filling with its two extra real games (and very likely, three extra weeks' worth of real games, as noted above), it wouldn't taste so great.

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