When Roger Goodell visited the Bengals training camp earlier in the month, he made it clear that he thinks preseason "is not up to NFL standards and that we should address that." He said the league is "stuck" on 20-game schedule, and talked about floating the idea of changing the current ratio of preseason and regular season games. Instead of a 16-game regular season with four preseason games, he floated the idea of having a 17-game regular season with three preseason games, or even an 18-2 scenario.
I don't mind dissolving a preseason game or two -- though as a Bengals fan, it seems we'll need seven preseason games to be ready for kickoff weekend. Limiting preseason games, however, won't limit the injuries from the first to third preseason games -- look at the injuries that occurred in that span. And most teams limit their starters and high-ranking back ups in the fourth game anyway. Reducing the preseason is fine, but I don't think it's that big of a deal, nor will it magically prevent injuries.
Other than obvious financial advantages, I also don't think going to seventeen games is a very good idea.
First off, every single player would have to have their contracts reworked. Most, if not all contracts, are designed to pay a player in a 16-game season. If the league started a 17-game schedule today, they'd work that seventeenth game for free. That might not sound like a big deal to us, but the players and the NFLPA will assure everyone that will not risk players careers, on any given play, for free (though that's a big reason, from the player's perspective, to reduce preseason games).
Secondly, a 16-game season wears on a player's body. There isn't a starting NFL player out there that isn't suffering from some injury (at least an "ache") by the time the season is over. Adding more games with players hurt through the grueling 16-game season, could risk a depreciated product late in the season. And for those teams going through the playoffs, adding a regular season game would mean they could play a 21-game season -- not that the players playing that 21st game care.
Thirdly, NFL teams are unlike most businesses; the money that they make is distributed among their competition during the regular season. The preseason is the only way teams can make, and keep, their own money because revenue sharing does not apply. Business is business and if you were an owner of a business, you'd want to keep all of your earnings. Think of it like the government milking your earnings in the form of taxes.
Fourthly (that's my word), like increasing games before (from 12 to 14 and 14 to 16), we'll see more records fall because we're diluting the schedule. Records are basically meaningless in football games, but hold historical and emotional significance to the media, fans and the player (and their teammates) that set/break the record. Any record is able to be broken when you increase the number of games. But the NFL is more about the entertainment dollar today than it is the historical significance of the players that made this league great.
Finally, the NFL schedule uses a simple formula that's fair for all teams. Six games against your division, four games against another division within your conference, four games against a division in the other conference, and two games against other in-conference teams, not against the division you're set to play, based on the standings the respective team finished. For example, the Bengals play six games in the AFC North, four games in the NFC East, four games in the AFC South, and games against the Chiefs and Jets (teams that finished in the same position in the standings as the Bengals in the AFC West and East). The eight games scheduled against other divisions is rotational.
If the league added a seventeenth game, where does that 17th game come from? Would they play with the idea of adding a third game against a league rival? Perhaps the 17th game would be a fifth game against an opposing conference on a rotational basis that's not scheduled as the original four based on where they finished in the standings the season before? No matter. Long story short, the league would have to find a formula that agrees with the one that exists now.
It's not that I don't want to see more meaningful football games. I just see too many hurdles to really think it's worth it. The league is doing it simply to make a good chunk of change, likely after a renegotiating television contracts to include that 17th game. However, the league pays smarter people than I to come up with good solutions, I'm sure of it.