>Q. Given the incredible number of injuries that occur during a 16-game season, how can the NFL expect that teams would be able to add two regular-season games and still have something left for the playoffs? How likely is this to happen and do you support it?
-- Mike Scully, Williamsville.
A: In a perfect world, a 16-game regular season is better than an 18-game regular season. However, in a perfect world, you would not have to pay full price for two home preseason games, which are a colossal rip-off at $70 a ticket (or more, depending on the team you follow). We don't live in a perfect world.
The reality is an 18-game season is inevitable. There is no stopping it, because the NFL needs to find some new revenue streams in order to reach a new collective bargaining agreement with the players. Two more regular-season weeks means they can give more content to all the networks. That will mean more money in the long run, and it's easier to divide a bigger pie than the same-sized pie. The league needs more revenue to broker a new deal. Players can complain about 18 games all they want, but players don't want to take a pay cut. In addition to that, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell feels strongly that the league can't keep asking fans to pay full prices to watch a crummy preseason product. I respect that, and I don't even pay for tickets.
So the NFL needs to find a way to make an 18-game season work. Letting teams have bigger rosters can help. If a team has been working with a young lineman all year, for instance, he'll be in better position to help the team if he has to step in and play in Week 13.
There is no doubt that an 18-game season increases the chance that the best team gets a key injury, and some lesser wild-card team wins the Super Bowl. It creates more of a chance that the best team doesn't win, puts more luck into the equation. So be it. The teams with the best quarterbacks and the best coaching will have a bigger edge.
>Q. It has become common practice in the NFL for playoff-bound teams to sit players during the last regular season games to avoid injury. It is clear that the main objective in this is not to win a game, but to protect the health of their star athletes. What would stop a group of ticket holders from suing the team and the NFL for this on the grounds that: By selling a ticket (and by the way, advertising these games as being fair contests) doesn't the league commit to putting on a fair contest where the outcome is not pre-determined, and where the goal of each team is to win? That's why players and coaches are not allowed to bet on games.
-- John Wild, Buffalo.
A. I don't know the legal possibilities. The NFL is concerned about this. That's why this year, for the first time, the league scheduled most teams to play division games in the final three weeks. That's a great move, because it creates a greater chance of meaningful final-weekend games. I don't know what the NFL can do beyond this. Given the length of the season, I think it would be wrong to force top teams to play key starters. But your concern isn't going to go away. It's inevitable that the league will adopt an 18-game schedule, and with more games it's very likely a top team or two will have things wrapped up early.
This is the final Question Mark of the season. Mark Gaughan will answer questions in a chat on-line at 11:30 a.m. Friday and throughout the offseason.