The NFL is moving to a 17-game regular season in 2021, and Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes commented on the switch when asked about it in an interview with Brian Sozzi of Yahoo Finance (h/t Josh Alper of Pro Football Talk):
“It definitely puts more on your body. I mean, every single game your entire career, you’re battling through something. And I think you see that in every single body at the end of the season. You’re always nicked up a little bit, you always have some injuries and some bruises. And so I think the biggest thing is gonna be a learning experience this next year. I mean, we’ve got to go in with the mindset of just continue to make ourselves better, and knowing 17 games is how many we're playing, and then you’re gonna have the postseason after that. And so I think it’ll be brand new to everybody. Everybody’s want to adjust and try to do whatever they can to prepare their bodies to be ready for it.”
The increase from 16 to 17 games marks the first time the league has changed the amount of matchups since 1978, when it went from 14 to 16.
A 12-game slate was the norm before the jump to 14 in 1961.
While NFL teams will be playing the most games ever during the regular season, it is not the high-water mark in an American professional football season. The USFL had 18-game seasons during its existence from 1983 to 1985.
The increased number of games has not received universally glowing reviews from players, with New Orleans running back Alvin Kamara providing this assessment (warning: contains profanity):
The most informed opinion may come from Buffalo Bills wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who played 17 contests in 2019 with the Denver Broncos and San Francisco 49ers. The Broncos traded Sanders to San Francisco before their bye week, and the wideout joined a 49ers team that had already had its break. Sanders ended up playing 20 games (including the playoffs), with the 49ers going to Super Bowl LIV.
Sanders gave his thoughts on the experience to Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk:
“It was definitely tough. If the NFL wants to change the season to 17 games they should ask me, and I say no. Because my body was hurting and I needed that break.
“Certain things were just aching, my ankles were sore, my big toe was sore, just everything. Now I had the little bye, I had the opportunity to get a little break. My body feels good and ready to go.”
On the bright side, the 17-game season does mean certain benefits, as the NFLPA explained:
However, it's clear that there will be an adjustment period.
It's also conceivable that the 17-game slate will lead to teams resting more players midseason a la the NBA.
We could also see teams that clinched early playoff or division berths rest players for two weeks to end the season rather than one. Or perhaps teams near the bottom of the standings will start their tanking earlier.
Pages can be ripped out of the Philadelphia Eagles' Week 17 playbook from 2020 as well. The team more or less played a host of backups and third-stringers in a loss to the Washington Football Team and claimed the sixth overall pick in the 2021 draft before trading it to the Miami Dolphins.