Apparently the idea of an 18-game NFL season isn't as popular as I thought, based on the reaction to slash196's recent FanPost. I wanted to take some time to lay out my opinions on 18 games and give some counterweight to a fairly hot topic.
As always, feel free to weigh in.
1. Records are for chumps.
Don't get me wrong; records are fun to talk about. But when we talk about records, we always talk about them being broken. We don't just look at records as accomplishments by an individual, we put the records in context: How long did the previous record stand? How long will it be before this record is broken? A statistic by itself is meaningless--it's only compared to other achievements that a record has any value.
Yes, an 18-game season looks like it would cheapen some records we thought were unassailable in the 16-game era. But football isn't baseball. Football fans are able to put our calculators down and watch the games with our eyes. We already know who the greatest players of the past are, and no amount of change in the present takes away from those men. We don't think less of Bart Starr just because Jeff George threw more touchdowns in his career.
It doesn't make sense to suddenly become precious about records 90 years into the history of the league. Why are we comfortable with going from 14 games to 16, but not from 16 to 18? I don't buy that 1978 was the moment when the "modern" NFL began. Hell, they were still using stickum for another three years, and loose helmets could actually be used as weapons until 1983. I don't think anyone under 35 considers either of those tactics particularly modern.
Would the preservationists want to stick an asterisk next to a guy's record just because he came into the NFL in the 18-game era? Because to my way of thinking, that's worse than "moving the goalposts" for the statistical milestones we're familiar with. If any receiver, future Hall of Famer or not, manages to break Jerry Rice's single-season receiving yardage total, that man deserves his place in the record book. Period. You'd put an asterisk by his name and say "But he's not as good as Rice!" forever just because he doesn't have the same sustained greatness? You'd diminish that guy's accomplishment just because you liked the old guy better? For all the talk about an 18-game season pissing on the league's history, the 16-game crowd doesn't seem to have a problem pissing on its future.
Besides, I thought we were worried that an 18-game schedule would turn every team into a trauma ward and force the NFL to sign UFL players for the last two weeks of the year. If that's true, we shouldn't have to worry about today's "lesser" stars stealing glory away from the heroes of decades past. And hey, while we're talking about injuries...
2. Injuries, schminjuries.
The simple sad fact in football, in sports, in life itself, is that injuries happen. Brace yourself for a shock--sometimes players get hurt doing things that aren't sports! Even for "funny" injuries like Vince Coleman's ill-fated fight against the tarp machine in 1985 (look it up), it's doubly unfortunate when a player misses games because of non-game-related injuries. But it's going to happen no matter what, and you can't predict what will happen during the 165 hours a week when a player isn't playing football. Should owners ban their players from, say, climbing ladders? Driving faster than 50mph? Being on a team with a terrible head coach who thinks it's a good motivational tool to keep a tree stump and an axe in the locker room? At least two of those ideas are ridiculous. The point here is that we don't, and can't, and shouldn't expect players to be hermetically sealed when they aren't playing meaningful games.
And speaking of meaningful games...
3. It's not even that much of an expansion.
Two more regular-season games = two fewer preseason charades. We aren't advocating the kind of season creep that causes the World Series (formerly known as the "October Classic") to be played in November. We're not asking players to run at game speed in full pads in the searing July heat. This is the best kind of "expansion"--taking two meaningless, boring games off the schedule and replacing them with sweet, juicy football goodness.
And since we're not really adding new games, most players will still be playing in 20 games. It's just that two of those games won't be near-pointless exercises with 8th string defensive backs trying to impress the coach by laying out whatever poor schlub just caught a pass from the practice squad quarterback in the 3rd quarter. Looking back one point to the injury concern, this isn't really "two more games". It's closer to "two more quarters" for the average player.
For the average fan, it's definitely closer to "two more games". More chances for a team to come together and make a playoff push. More chances to see dramatic fourth-quarter comebacks that only happen when a game's outcome has real implications for the season. Would we have seen the Colts stuff the Bengals on 4th-and-2 in a preseason game? No, because we would have left as soon as they turned off the beer sales.