Signs point toward interconference matchups for 17th game

Mike Florio
ProFootball Talk on NBC Sports

The NFL hasn’t provided the NFL Players Association with many/any details regarding how a 17th regular-season game would be implemented. On Monday, Packers CEO Mark Murphy shared one very important aspect of the extra game with Mark Maske of the Washington Post.

Via Maske, Murphy said that all teams in one conference would have nine home games one season and then eight home games the next season. This points directly to the 17th game pitting each of the 16 teams from one conference against the 16 teams from the other conference, pushing the total interconference games played each year by every team from four to five.

As explained in October, the league crafted the perfect formula in 2002, when the Texans joined the league and the number of teams hit an even 32. Currently, each team plays: (1) the other three teams in its own division twice; (2) all four teams from one of the other divisions in its conference, on a three-year rotating basis; (3) all four teams from one of the divisions in the other conference, on a four-year rotating basis; and (4) the teams from the other two divisions in its own conference that finished in the same position during the prior year.

Currently, schedule weighting based on the outcome from the prior season comes only from the fourth category, with the four teams in a given division having only two games tied to where each team finished in the prior season. A 17th game could inject more parity into the schedule.

With every team already playing four teams from one division in the other conference, the 17th game would entail facing a team from one of the other three divisions in the other conference, based on where teams finished in those divisions in the prior year. It would rotate each year, allowing for example the four teams of the AFC North to play the four teams of the NFC East and then one more team from the NFC North, with the first-place AFC North team from the prior year playing the first-place NFC North team from the prior year, and so on.

While some (like Big Cat on Friday’s PFT Live) would like to see the 17th game entail an annual contest against a geographic rival, teams like the Jets and Giants already play once every four years when all teams of the AFC East play all teams of the NFC East. Would the Jets and Giants play once every year and twice every four years?

And what if, for example, the Rams and Chargers play every year but the Rams are great every year and the Chargers stink every year? That would be horribly unfair for the other three teams in the NFC West (who may be playing tougher geographi rivals from the AFC), and for the Chargers (who would be getting curb stomped by the Rams every year).

There are other problems with setting up geographic rivalries. Put simply, there will be odd teams out. (Go ahead, try to find a geographic rival from the AFC for the Cardinals after tying the Chargers to the Rams and the Raiders to the 49ers and the Broncos to the Seahawks and the Texans to the Cowboys.)

The better approach would entail an annual division-vs.-division matchup with first-place team playing first-place team from divisions in opposing conferences and second-place team playing second-place team from those same two divisions, and so on.

With the NFL also determined to add one more playoff team per conference, in turn putting even greater importance on the No. 1 seed, requiring the first-place teams from each division to play one more first-place team per year (pushing the annual total to five first-place teams in a 17-game slate) would tend to inject a little more parity into the annual scrum for that top seed.

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