Eisenberg: Ramifications of the 17-Game Season

DE Calais Campbell

The expansion of the NFL regular season to 17 games benefits the league financially, adding a week of games that have meaning and can be marketed and sold.

Many fans also will benefit, as they get more bang for their season-ticket buck with a game that counts replacing a preseason game in their package.

But I don't know that you'll find many players thinking they're better off with another week added to a regular season that was already a physical and mental grind for them.

I'm having a hard time forgetting a throwaway comment Ravens wide receiver Sammy Watkins tossed into an interview last month. "The injury rate in the NFL is 100 percent," he said.

In other words, everybody is sore and hurt to some degree, and that was when the season was one game shorter than it'll be in 2021.

"I'm sure it's going to have a lot of unintended consequences," Ravens defensive lineman Calais Campbell said last month. "With the pace you go at during the season and just how every game matters, I feel like there are going to be a lot of changes when it comes to having that extra game."

One change might be key players who are healthy taking an occasional game off or at least lessening their snap count in certain games with the idea of preserving them for the long haul.

Days off are common in major league baseball, where the season is 162 games, and in NBA basketball, which has an 81-game schedule. But the philosophy in pro football has always been that every game is crucial, so no one gets a break. That might change.

At the very least, it's a new issue for Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh to contemplate and manage, especially at positions where the grind is especially wearing and/or the Ravens are using more veterans.

On the defensive line, for instance, the Ravens' starters are Campbell, Brandon Williams and Derek Wolfe – ages 34, 32 and 31, respectively. They comprise a formidable front, but they all dealt with injuries or health issues in 2020.

The Ravens almost surely will keep six D-lineman as a result with more options stashed on the practice squad, and those depth pieces had better be solid because they're liable to be on the field.

The offensive line is another position where the team's depth surely will be tested, but honestly, depth at every position is going to be more important with the greater chance of frontline players getting injured or taking time off. It's going to be crucial for a team to have that third safety, that fourth or fifth wide receiver and guys at all positions who can come off the practice squad and contribute.

The situation might be even more pointed here due to the Ravens' physical playing style.

"Just having 17 games, with the physicality of the way we play, it's going to be a grind, and we're going to have to have a lot of mental toughness," Campbell said.

Injuries are inevitable, and some can't be avoided, but the Ravens' full-on embrace of sports science has helped them reduce the impact of sprains and pulls in recent years. Needless to say, that's going to be more important than ever.

The ultimate goal is no different – winning enough games to get to the playoffs. But even that math is changing now due to the season being longer.

"Usually, you say to yourself you have to win 10 games. Ten games is kind of the floor to get into a position to get to the playoffs. I guess this year, you have to say at least, minimum, 11," Campbell said. "Hopefully (the longer season) gives us the opportunity, if we need it, to be able to win that extra ballgame to get in."

A lot of things are changing – the playoff math, the added importance of durability and depth, the ability to grind.

"But I'm very confident in the guys we've got in this building," Campbell said. "We're very deep in a lot of places. I think we'll be fine."

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