The National Football League expanded its season to 17 games from 16 back in 2021 and simultaneously reduced the preseason from four games to three. Under this current structure, each franchise will rotate between having nine home games in a single year and then eight in others—but why not limit each team to eight home games and then play the “17th game” at a neutral site?
This approach would allow the NFL to plant seeds in markets where there’s currently not a team. Think Alabama, Oklahoma, or Portland, Oregon where college football reigns supreme but local fans don’t get to enjoy professional football in-person. The league has also continued to expand its international series, which has grown a slate of five games in 2023. Why should the contests abroad count as a home game for some teams but not for others? The Jacksonville Jaguars seem to lose out on a home contest every year.
While the Los Angeles Rams have moved on from St. Louis, the XFL still had impressive attendance numbers and support for the Battlehawks. The Kansas City Chiefs and Tennessee Titans are four to five hours away, so why not give them a chance to smooth over tensions between the NFL, St. Louis, and any fans with a bad taste left in their mouth? The NFL could use the neutral sites to test locations for future expansion based on how much interest is drawn locally.
Even if additional teams are a ways off, the league could create bowl game atmospheres with corporate sponsorships. There’s also potential to throw fuel on the fire for intra-state or same city rivalries that we don’t see often because the teams are in different conferences—such as the New York Giants and New York Jets, Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans, the Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Chargers, the Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers, etc. The “Texas Bowl by Tostino’s” sure has a nice ring to it.
It’s no secret that the NFL has high hopes in terms of expanding it’s geographic outreach, both domestically and abroad. With a few 17-game seasons under its belt, it’s time for the league to use the “17th game” to bring professional football to neutral sites in new markets.