The 2021 NFL season is intriguing for so many different reasons. New faces in new places, stars returning from injury, new head coaches, exciting rookie class, etc. One thing that is completely unique, however, was the NFL’s decision to add an additional regular-season game to the schedule.
Even though playing 17 games instead of 16 does not sound like a big difference, I believe there will be some obvious changes to the way coaches and players approach the season. Below are a few things that I expect to change due to the 18-week schedule:
Will Coaches Start Resting Their Starters?
Part of the argument why most fans believe the NFL regular season is more intriguing to watch than the NBA is that unless you are injured, the starters in the NFL will play pretty much the entire game as long as it is not a complete blowout in the 4th quarter.
In the NBA, a lot of coaches monitor the minutes of the veteran guys and even “load manage” their players by sitting them out of the game entirely.
Because there are way fewer games in the NFL, coaches do not have the luxury to do that. Each game holds so much more magnitude.
This season, I do not expect coaches to “load manage” their guys per se, but I would not be surprised at all to see some of the starters get pulled way sooner than they normally would beforehand.
Injuries are a huge concern in the NFL, and it just takes one hit for your star players to potentially miss the entire season. Because there is an extra game, the blows/hits players will get will mount up much quicker.
In order to offset that, coaches may have their stars practice less during the week and even pull them out of games in the second half, even though the game may not be completely out of reach.
Why is it More Likely for AFC Teams to Finish With a Better Record?
Since each team is playing an odd number of games, half of the NFL will play an additional game at home, while the other half will play an additional road game.
In order for the NFL to try to level the playing field, they decided to have each conference play an even amount of home games. This season, the AFC is scheduled to play nine total home games, while the NFC is scheduled to play only eight.
In 2022, the opposite will be this case.
Because of this decision, it is more likely that the AFC teams will finish with a better overall winning percentage than the NFC. Especially with stadiums expected to hold full capacity crowds once again, home-field advantage will be huge on a week-to-week basis.
The good news is that since the Super Bowl is played on a neutral field, the playoff picture will not be affected since each conference plays an even amount of home and road games.
Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see how much better the AFC’s winning percentage will be if this expectation holds true.