The NFL’s Expanded Season Will Deliver Some Hideously Wrong-Looking Records
4:27 PM EDT on March 30, 2021
In February 2017, a German YouTuber uploaded a video of himself egregiously screwing up various humdrum tasks. In the broadest sense, this sort of thing happens millions of times a day on YouTube, as the online world's oafs and goons heave their botched makeup tutorials, cooking demonstrations, and political analyses into the airless void. The difference was that this particular video was duffed on purpose: A perfectly lovely cake is cut into variously oblong slices, a tomato is sliced so ineptly that it collapses into gleaming red pulp, a deck of cards is mis-shuffled into back-to-front oblivion. The video has been viewed nearly nine million times, despite the fact that its creator called it "The Most Unsatisfying Video In The World Ever Made."
While there is something in the human mind that craves symmetry and order, there is also another more chaotic element that takes a perverse pleasure in watching things get botched. Neither of these were the parts of the brain that the NFL's owners used in deciding to add a 17th regular-season game to the league's schedule starting this season; that was the little-studied "avarice gland," which in some NFL owners has been found to weigh upwards of nine pounds. In swapping out a preseason exhibition for an actual counts-in-the-standings NFL game, the league's owners fulfilled a longstanding goal and will make themselves some money in the process. "The CBA with the players and the recently completed media agreements provide the foundation for us to enhance the quality of the NFL experience for our fans," Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement as rich in sincere excitement as it is literary grace. "And one of the benefits of each team playing 17 regular-season games is the ability for us to continue to grow our game around the world."
This decision brutally smushes the tomato of the old 16-game schedule into a pallid and unappetizing paste. There is a reason that few sports leagues seek out prime numbers in deciding upon the length of their seasons, and the NFL's hard-won 17 is proof of why. It's ungainly, for one thing—some teams will play nine home games, and others will play eight, with the conferences alternating year by year. "The extra game will be a cross-conference matchup based on the previous year's divisional standings and the division schedule rotation from two seasons prior," ESPN explains, which is somehow an even less exciting way of saying, "This means Eagles at Jets." As Goodell blithely threatened in his statement, the league will add some more international games to its schedule, which is great news for those who enjoy watching games played in both an ambient, liminal hangover space and literally Canada. Also the players don't really seem to care for it.
Mostly, though, it just looks wrong. Like every dumb and unnecessary thing forced upon the world by rich people who only kind of thought about it before making it happen, this is surely something that everyone else will get used to over time. But, like so many of those powerful rich person ideas, this is haplessly, helplessly misshapen and garish, a gaudy private car elevator or six-figure golf simulator that somehow has assumed the shape of a pro sports season. While there is a chance that the new season will deliver some appealingly perverse records—there is no record that the contemporary NFL deserves more than 8-8-1, although 0-16-1 is close—the league's standings are going to be a true eyesore until everyone adjusts to the hideous and distended new thing the league's lords have made. In a world that has increasingly outpaced its own metaphors for stagnation and stubbornness, an NFL team grimly putting up a 7-10 season should suffice pretty well.
Here, according to a highly scientific poll of some of the Defector staff, are the newly possible NFL records ranked from most- to least-pleasing to the eye. None of them are great—I cannot explain what it is about a 2-15 record that I dislike so much, but rest assured that I voted my conscience on that—but all of them are inevitable.