Ness Notes: NFL 2021: 18 Weeks / 17 Games

by Larry Ness

I'm a bit of a history buff, so bear with me. In its early years, the NFL did not have a set schedule, as teams played a different amount of games, competing against independent professional, college, or amateur teams. Then, from 1926 through 1946, NFL teams played as few as 11 games and as many 14 games per season. From 1947 through 1960, each NFL team played 12 games per season. The American Football League began play in 1960 and introduced a balanced schedule of 14 games per team over a 15-week season, in which each of the eight teams played each of the other teams twice, with one bye week. The NFL (under Pete Rozelle) quickly realized it had a serious competitor. The NFL quickly expanded in 1961, moving to a 14-game schedule, which remained in place through 1977.

The league changed its schedule to include 16 regular season games in 1978 and through 1989, the 16 games were played over 16 weeks. The NFL introduced a bye week to the schedule in 1990, as each team played 16 regular season games over 17 weeks. Each team would have a weekend off during the regular season, on a rotating basis. Welcome to 2021, as the NFL will begin play on September 9, as teams will play 17 regular season games over 18 weeks. The just completed preseason was shortened to three weeks and I'll have a comment or two on that at the end of the article.

With the 16-game schedule now clearly in our rearview mirror, let's take a quick trip back down memory lane. Which teams had the best and worst records during the 43-year, 16-game era? After some research, here's what I found. Of the 32 teams, I guess we shouldn't be too surprised to find that 16 teams had winning records, while 16 had losing records (a perfect 50-50 split). The top-5 records belong to the Pittsburgh Steelers (413-265-2, .609), the New England Patriots (410-270, .603),  the Denver Broncos, (394-285-1, .580), the Green Bay Packers (381-293-6, .565) and the Baltimore Ravens (225-174-1, .564). Note: The Ravens joined the league in 1996. The bottom-5 records belong to the Detroit Lions (268-410-2, .396), the Cleveland Browns (251-379-2, .399), the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (276-403-1, .407), the Arizona Cardinals (276-400-4, .409) and the Jacksonville Jaguars (177-239, .425). Note; The Browns sat out a three-year span from 1996-98 and the Jaguars didn't join the NFL until the 1995 season.

However, when all is said and done, Super Bowl trophies count for more than regular-season wins. The Steelers won four Super Bowl rings in the 16-game era, which is tied for third-most with the NY Giants, who just barely own a winning record since 1978 at 340-338-2 (.501). The San Francisco 49ers (regular season record of 375-302-2, .553 ranks 7th-best) are second with five Super Bowl rings and naturally, the New England Patriots top the list with six Super Bowl rings. The Tampa Bay Bucs deserve a special 'shout-out,' as despite owning the 3rd-worst regular season record during the 16-game era (see above), the team has actually been able to win TWO Super Bowl rings following the 2002 and 2020 regular seasons.

With the addition of one more regular season game, the NFL cut the 2021 preseason to three games for each team. The exceptions were Dallas and Pittsburgh, which played a fourth game by meeting in the Hall of Fame Game. Hurricane Ida forced the cancelation of last Saturday's Arizona/New Orleans contest, so the Cardinals and Saints played just two preseason contests. Here's a quick recap of NFLX 2021.

The Baltimore Ravens extended their preseason winning streak to 20 consecutive victories by going 3-0 SU and ATS. The Ravens are one of seven unbeaten teams, joined by (in alphabetical order) the Bills, Broncos, Browns, Colts, Chiefs and Pats. The Bills joined the Ravens at 3-0 ATS and the Colts checked in at 2-0-1 ATS. You just may have noticed that all SEVEN unbeatens play in the AFC. The NFC saw EIGHT teams go winless, highlighted (lowlighted?) by the 0-3 SU and ATS Falcons and Packers. Are rumors true that Rodgers is trying to get back in touch with the people at Jeopardy? One final thought. The NFC East 'earned' the moniker of NFC 'Least' in 2020, when all four teams finished below .500 and the Washington Football Team won the division at 7-9. In the just completed preseason, Washington was the ONLY team in the NFC East to win a game, going 1-2 SU but 0-3 ATS. As for the Cowboys, Eagles and Giants, they combined to go 0-9-1. Quoting Jackie Gleason (with respect to Wayne Gretzky, the original "Great One"), "And away we go!"

As Arnold once famously said, "I'll be back" (on Sep 9).

Good luck...Larry

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

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