By quantitative measures, 18 will always be more than 16. But in terms of quality control, the NFL needs to be careful about its desires to increase the regular season to 18 games.
The league is well aware of one thing: It will generate more money through advertising and ticket sales by adding two regular-season games and removing two preseason games, the majority of which are televised in local markets. So, by that accord, the NFL has its eyes glazed over with dollar signs, and it will stand outside the offices of major networks with money sacks extended like little kids looking for candy on Halloween.
But again, that’s the league valuing quantity over quality.
With two fewer preseason games, teams will undoubtedly be less prepared to play well at the start of the regular season. Patriots defensive line coach Pepper Johnson claimed exactly that Tuesday, and he knows the first few weeks of the season will showcase some sloppy play.
Naturally, the world will watch, but take Monday night's game between the Packers and Bears, for example. While the television ratings were high, the majority of those who watched likely spent their Tuesdays talking about the Packers' 17 penalties and Jay Cutler's umpteenth overturned interception.
Sure, those things can happen in Week 3, and they can happen in the playoffs. But with two fewer preseason games, just imagine how poor the play will be in Week 1, and Week 2, and so on and so forth.
Then, look at the back end of the regular season. There was so much discussion last season in late December and early January about teams that rested their starters to gear up for the playoffs. At times, that was the dominant league-wide storyline, whether it regarded the Colts' gift-wrapping a victory for the Jets, or the Patriots playing honest football when the Texans were fighting for their first playoff berth.
It goes the other way, too. After Pats wide receiver Wes Welker tore the ACL in his left knee, many wondered why Welker was on the field in the first place, given that the Pats had clinched the playoffs. This is a continuous argument in every single market, as localized fan bases want their star players on the sidelines for meaningless games to ensure they avoid injury.
So, with 18 games on the schedule, a number of teams will have an opportunity to lock up a playoff position earlier than they would in the 16-game slate. Now, think of all the legitimate fuss players are making about the extra wear and tear that they'd inhabit over 18 games.
Think they would really want to play in Weeks 19 and 20 (assuming there's a second bye week thrown in there) if there was nothing on the line? Absolutely not.
The players hate the idea of moving to 18 games, but they'll likely agree to it if the money is right and it will save the NFL from a work stoppage. And at the end of the day, the 18-game season isn’t exactly going to cause an NFL Armageddon.
However, the quality of play will suffer at both ends of the regular season, and the NFL's owners don’t seem to really care.