How the 17 Game NFL Schedule Will Affect Fantasy Football

by Nick Spencer
2021-22 NFL Playoff Fantasy Football Strategy

Welcome to our assessment of how the new 17 game NFL schedule will affect Fantasy Football going forward.

Under the NFL’s new collective bargaining agreement, signed in March of 2020, the owners have the option to add a 17th game to the league schedule.

This right, which they unsurprisingly exercised last week, will be officially implemented for the 2021 season and onward. The extra game will be an inter-conference matchup, with the AFC getting the home game for this year.

How will the 17 game NFL schedule affect Fantasy Football? The change will have massive implications for Fantasy Football players and league managers alike.

Not only will we now have to deal with increased injury risk and records being shattered; most importantly, we must adjust to a new system for scheduling fantasy leagues.

How the 17 Game NFL Schedule Will Affect Fantasy Football

Championship and Playoff Timing

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The vast majority of fantasy championships take place in Week 16. Week 17 has long been ignored due to the risk of players being rested by their teams for the playoffs. This extra game provides the fantasy community with an opportunity to reassess how we schedule our leagues. Is how we currently do it really the best way?

There are a number of options available to league managers. One option: just extend the regular season but another game, meaning your fantasy season would be Weeks 1 to 14, with 15 to 17 being the playoffs.

Another method, perhaps the simplest, is to just ignore the extra game and keep the schedule exactly the same. Take both Week 17 and 18 off for fantasy. While this is an easy way of dealing with the change, it doesn’t take full advantage of the extra week of football we have gained.

However, my preferred solution is to keep the regular season the same, then extend the championship game by a week. This creates a two-week final showdown. Sure, the Super Bowl is just one game, but that doesn’t mean our fantasy finals have to be. Fantasy football has an extreme amount of variance, with players getting injured, exploding for monster games, and dropping duds.

A two-week championship helps reduce some of this variance by mitigating these effects and preventing you from losing your hard-earned championship due to one unlucky week. A two-week championship truly lets the best team win. As an added bonus, it increases the duration of the drama and the trash talk.

Finally, if you are one of the unlucky few that has been stuck with a Week 17 championship, use this change as leverage to keep it in Week 17 rather than push it back to Week 18.

Increased Injury Risk

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Another week of games means another week of fun, but it also means another week of potentially devastating injuries to your fantasy team. Football is a violent sport. The addition of an extra game without another bye week to compensate means players are going to suffer a greater chance of injury than ever before.

Running backs run the highest risk. Only four of the top 24 RBs played all 16 games in 2020, compared to 14 wide receivers. This means that we will likely see a slight increase in value for high-end running back handcuffs as the demand goes up for extra security on our top running backs. Quarterbacks could also see a small bump in value, as they are the least likely to get injured and therefore most likely to give you 17 games of production.

The additional game also increases the chances that players will be rested more than in the past. We could see more teams continue to run a backfield-by-committee in order to keep everybody fresh. This slightly increases the value of the superstar RBs who have proven durable and whose teams can't afford to rest them. Derrick Henry certainly comes to mind here. 

Records will be Broken

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The NFL has used a 16-game schedule since 1978, and in that time a lot of records have been set and reset. The extra game will only accelerate this process.

A 5,000-yard passing season is now 294 yards a game instead of 313. 1,000-yard seasons for running backs and receivers are not quite as meaningful. The players at the top of the rankings seem to be more elevated than ever. These higher-projected season totals further stretch the gap between the stars and the rest of the league. From this year on, it is more important than ever to compare the per-game statistics of players rather than full seasons.

Shorter Preseason

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One final change that shouldn’t be overlooked: the number of preseason games has been reduced from four to three.

These games aren’t extremely relevant for the top-shelf of fantasy talent. However, it does provide less opportunity to evaluate borderline players, players returning from injury, and players on new teams. All things considered, it is still a welcome change as it reduces the chances of the dreaded preseason injury. 

At the end of the day, while I would’ve liked to see another bye week added for the sake of the players' health, an extra week of football is something for all of us to be happy about.

Check out the rest of our 2021 Fantasy Football content from our team of excellent writers.

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