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17 could be the NFL’s magic number, eventually

As the NFL wrestles with the ever-present pressure to expand the financial pie and the ongoing growth of international games, there’s a looming solution to multiple concerns that involves an expansion of the regular season by less than two games.

The regular season eventually could be expanded by one game.

Eventually, the league could nudge the inventory from 16 to 17 regular-season games. It’s a way-down-the-road possibility that has yet to even land on the fringes of the league’s radar. But there are plenty of reasons to take this possibility seriously.

First, the NFL needs to increase the number of games that can be exported to other countries. While there always will be a handful of teams happy to give up a home game, some franchises (like the Cowboys, Steelers, and Patriots) will never do it. By adding a 17th game, every team would play once at a neutral site -- creating a total of 16 games that could be played in Europe or Mexico City or wherever.

Extra games beyond the 16 neutral-site games could be played in other countries if teams are willing to give up one of their eight homes games.

Second, the NFL could start most if not all Europeans games at 9:30 a.m. ET. Apart from the wisdom of carving out a game that otherwise would be caught in the 1:00 p.m. ET scrum, starting a game at 9:30 a.m. ET allows games to be shown on TV (or the Internet) in or close to prime time in Asia.

Third, the health and safety concerns arising from adding one regular-season game could be balanced out by the reduction of the preseason from four games to two. Adding a second bye week would give the players extra rest -- and it would nudge the Super Bowl to Presidents’ Day Weekend.

Fourth, and as one league source put it, the money coming from adding two weeks to the regular season would be “enormous.”

Again, it’s not anything that will happen soon, if at all. But as the NFL looks for more games to play in other countries and more ways to grow the pie, it’s a possibility that eventually will land on the table for discussion between the league and the NFL Players Association.