It would appear that the NFL's adding a 17th regular season game to the schedule is just a matter of time. An additional game will mean more money for players, lots more money for owners, and more content for everybody in the business — television, radio, web writers, gamblers, the whole nine yards. It also has the adjunct of an additional playoff team in each conference, for better or worse.
The expanded schedule and playoff also means that the most symmetrical, sensical schedule and playoff format in all of sports will get disrupted by an invasion of odd numbers. The 32 team, 16 game, 12 team playoff that is just so delightfully mathematically sound will now be, literally, a tad odd.
So about this 17th game, what should it be exactly? Right now, the 16 game schedule is delightfully formulaic, with each team playing division foes twice apiece (six games total), crossing over with one AFC division (four games), one NFC division (four games), and the two variable games against the corresponding teams in the standings from the remaining two divisions in your conference. Easy, peasy!
Done properly, a 17th game can be a real opportunity. One thought has been to make that 17th game a neutral site "showcase" sort of game overseas, or somewhere else on this continent. This would keep the schedule at eight home, eight road, and one neutral game, as opposed to some teams getting the benefit of an added home game. This would also allow the league to hardcore barnstorm to portions of the globe that are hungry for American football.
My thought has always been to, where possible, make the 17th game a "rivalry game," where it makes sense. With one rare exception, these would be geographic rivals across the two conferences. By definition, these are all teams that only currently meet once every four years, and they should be meeting far more frequently. According to one report, the league is already thinking of a format that runs in this general direction, at least from a "cross conference" standpoint.
By my count, there are 16 teams that you can put into an annual rivalry:
THE GOTHAM SHOWDOWN
New York Jets vs New York Giants
This is an easy one, since they both play in the same stadium. Right now, both teams are trying to punch their way back into the playoff picture, but a rivalry game feels like a sort of cold weather bowl game for these two.
THE GRAND FLORIDIAN
Miami Dolphins vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers
A rivalry game in the
messed up great state of Florida! Two of the more star crossed franchises of the last decade or so, I would watch this just for the screen caps of the various Florida folks.
CLASH IN THE CAPITAL
Baltimore Ravens vs Washington Redskins
Right now, this would be a controlled scrimmage for the Ravens every year, but I think the world will have fun watching Daniel Snyder's team getting knocked around like a piñata.
Pittsburgh Steelers vs Philadelphia Eagles
This is one that really should happen every year. Pennsylvania is one of those states, like northern and southern Louisiana, that is really two states in one. In Philly, you have eastern PA, where they have that confrontational New Jersey vibe, and in Pittsburgh, you have the blue collar folks that like to regale you with stories of the Steel Curtain and Franco Harris' Immaculate Reception. Hell, play this one in Happy Valley in December and call it a day!
TEXAS FOREVER, THE TIM RIGGINS BOWL
Houston Texans vs Dallas Cowboys
Imagine the pomp and circumstance of that overtime win in 2018, and then imagine having that EVERY DAMN SEASON on the Texans' schedule. Dak Prescott just gives off the vibe of some one that Deshaun Watson should be pimp slapping on an annual basis.
1996 FRATERNAL TWIN CHALLENGE
Jacksonville Jaguars vs Carolina Panthers
These are the two franchises that entered the league together in 1995, and made their respective conference title games in 1996. I don't know if they feel any sort of kinship, but neither had a dance partner in my rivalry game, so I figured "what the hell"!
BAY AREA BRAWL (SORT OF)
Las Vegas Raiders vs San Francisco 49ers
This might have had more juice when the Raiders were actually in the Bay Area, but now it's onto Las Vegas. Still, I think the silver and black will maintain a heavy influence with fans in Northern California, and these two still make sense squaring for each season.
Los Angeles Chargers vs Los Angeles Rams
Like the two New York teams, these two share a stadium, albeit one that isn't quite finished being built yet. The Chargers are actually the Rams tenant, so maybe they can bet the rent every year on that game.
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The leftover teams are as follows:
AFC: New England, Buffalo, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Tennessee, Kansas City, Denver
NFC: Green Bay, Minnesota, Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans, Atlanta, Seattle, Arizona
Honestly, my solution with these 16 teams is to either fully randomize the matchups, or if there are any particularly juicy matchups — say, a Super Bowl rematch — that aren't already being played, then let's make some dream matchups for the people. Whatever the case, this 17th game, once it happens, will be very intriguing.