The National Football League has its new record-setting TV contracts signed and a 17-game schedule is headed for the upcoming 2021 NFL season.
While the official schedule won’t be released until May, the league has been working for months on ensuring that every team will play 17 games this season. Thanks to the new collective-bargaining agreement signed by the players’ union, which granted owners the authority to expand the regular season, the big change many have anticipated is finally around the corner.
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the NFL is expected to announce this week that the 2021 regular season will feature a 17-game schedule. It will be the first change to the length of the season since the league moved to 16 games in 1978.
While many players have remained adamantly opposed to the change for safety reasons, the move became inevitable once the new CBA was signed. Team owners pushed for years to increase the length of the regular season and prolonged negotiations with the NFLPA finally made it happen.
Of course, it will have huge ramifications on the 2021 season and the future NFL salary cap.
What will a 17-game NFL schedule look like in 2021?
Even before the TV deals were signed, the NFL had planned out its 2021 regular-season schedule months in advance. In fact, rumors already leaked in December 2020 that the next season would be expanded to 17 games.
There will now be a Week 18 added to the schedule, with the creation of new interconference matchups. Each team will face a counterpart from the AFC who finished in the same spot of the NFL standings. While none of the matchups are official, NBC Sports’ Peter King reported some of the expected games we’ll see.
- Green Bay Packers @ Kansas City Chiefs
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ New England Patriots
- Baltimore Ravens @ Los Angeles Rams
- Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Seattle Seahawks
It’s anticipated that the AFC will host the new interconference games this year, with the rotation flipping to the NFC in 2022. The matchups between AFC and NFC divisions will be rotated each year, increasing the odds that clubs don’t face off in consecutive years.
The NFL already sold the Week 18 games in their new media contracts, helping fuel the price hikes for networks like NBC, FOX and CBS.
Coming off a season that saw the league lose billions of dollars in revenue, the new 17-game schedule will help everyone recover from the financial fallout caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Better yet for the NFL and its fans, stadiums will be open this fall.
With the expansion of the regular season, the preseason will be reduced to two or three games. While that will have little effect on starters and top players, the revenue generated from expanding to a 17-game schedule should help contracts climb in the years to come.