Barnwell: Three (huge) ways the NFL will change with a 17-game season

    Bill Barnwell is a staff writer for ESPN.com.

The time has come. The NFL has officially announced that it will be moving to a 17-game, 18-week season in 2021, which is great news for fans, frustrating news for players and something in between for those of us who need to update all of our data for a 17-game campaign. We’re going to need to get used to teams that finish 3-14, 6-11 and 12-5. Those of you who cherish Week 4 of the preseason will be sorely disappointed, but the future is here.

What happens next? How will football in 2021 and beyond look different from what we’ve seen in the 16-game era? I’m here to help or — at the very least — wildly speculate. I’ve given the 17-game season some thought and have identified three ways that the NFL is about to change.

Records will be broken

This one seems straightforward: More games means more records will fall. The players who suited up in the 14-game era — which ended in 1978 — have mostly been erased from the top of the NFL’s season-long record books. Only two major single-season records from 14-game seasons are still on the books, and they both include interceptions:

  • George Blanda threw 42 picks in the AFL in 1962 (for a Houston Oilers team that went 11-3).

  • Dick “Night Train” Lane intercepted 14 passes as a rookie for the 1952 Rams.

The move from 16 to 17 isn’t as significant as the one from 14 to 16, but every single-season record is going to be under more danger than it was before. The difference might be dramatic, and we could see some of the most significant ones fall as early as the 2021 season. Let’s take a look at one example by using a simulation to evaluate a quarterback who is going to hold all kinds of records by the time he’s done playing:

What are the chances Patrick Mahomes sets the passing yardage record?

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