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NFL preseason may go from four games to three, but how could it work?

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One less preseason game could mean one less chance for Brandon Tate to earn his spot on the Bengals' 53-man roster. He is a preseason and training camp star after all.

Joe Robbins/Getty Images

We're at the point in the offseason where an NFL preseason game would feel like watching the Super Bowl.

Instead, we're settling for the NFL Scouting Combine, a.k.a. the underwear Olympics, but the preseason has managed to find it's way into the news during the scouting event. While we're over five months from the 2016 preseason opening with the annual Hall of Fame Game, it's possible we see a major reduction made this year or in the near future.

For many years now, the movement to reduce the preseason by at least one game has slowly gained steam to the point it seems like a matter of 'when' and not 'if.' According to Rob Demovsky of ESPN, Green Bay Packers president Mark Murphy said there’s more talk about shortening the preseason to three games instead of the current four-game slate, which doesn't even include the fifth game that two teams play every year when they're part of the Hall of Fame Game.

Murphy, who has been on the NFL competition committee since 2012, said he believes there's enough support around the league to eliminate at least one week of the preseason. The topic was brought up because his Packers will be playing in the Hall of Fame Game vs the Indianapolis Colts.

Packers head coach Mike McCarthy isn't a fan of that, and he would be in favor of the change.

"That would probably be a little more practical, especially with all the emphasis on player safety," McCarthy said. "Hell, they've cut back everything else. I wouldn't be surprised if they go to three games. Three games with a two-week bye week, with two weeks before the opener. That's just my opinion. Nobody's told me that. I'd be for it. I think it makes a lot of sense. Then you could be a little more aggressive in that third game. Just take the fourth one out."

But while McCarthy is thinking more about the wear and tear an extra preseason game can put on players, Murphy knows as an executive the amount of revenue the NFL could lose with one less preseason contest. Even knowing that, Murphy is expressing his interest in eliminating one of the games.

"I think there would be support for three," Murphy said. "I think Mike's [idea], that's what we've talked about. Rather than playing that fourth game on a Thursday ... don't play a fourth game and then you'd have an extra week. We've looked at different models, but I think that's the one that makes the most sense.

"You're giving up some revenue, but it's one of the worst things we do. The move we made on variable [ticket] pricing helps a little bit in how preseason is viewed, but especially that fourth game is kind of a throwaway."

What Murphy is referring to on the "variable ticket pricing" for preseason games involves a new pricing method the Bengals adopted this offseason. NFL teams have typically charged fans normal ticket prices for these games that often feature backups and fringe roster players getting the bulk of playing time. Now, several teams are utilizing a new plan that involves a two-tier model - one tier for preseason games and another for regular-season games.

The interesting thing about shedding one preseason game is how NFL teams would handle it and which preseason game plan they would eliminate.

Typically, the pre-season has worked as such:

  • Game 1 features starters playing for a series or two, then backups the rest of the way.
  • Game 2 features starters playing for a full quarter and sometimes the whole first half, then backups come in.
  • Game 3 features starters playing for an entire half and often into the third quarter, then it's backup time.
  • Game 4 features backups for the entire game. This is also usually the best chance for the fringe roster guys to make their final push for a spot on the 53-man roster.

So which one of those game scenarios do you take out? Do you skip Game 1 and use 2-4 for your preseason? Do you axe Game 3 and go 1-2, then skip to 4?

My hope is if the NFL cuts out one game, teams will choose to take away the second or third preseason game scenario and the third one becomes the game where all the backups and fringe guys play every snap. This puts the starters in fewer positions to get hurt.

You may recall the Packers vs Steelers preseason game last year that saw Pro Bowlers Maurkice Pouncey and Jordy Nelson go down with season-ending injuries. Those two teams would go on to lose by narrow margins in the Divisional Round of the 2016 playoffs, and you could make a good argument those games were lost in the preseason when those two key players went down.

I hate the thought of a team not reaching their ultimate potential because a key guy got hurt in a glorified fake football game. I'm sure different teams would use different plans for the preseason with only three games, but either way, we'd be eliminating a chance for players to get hurt in a meaningless game.

How would you like to see the preseason play out if it were only three games?