The NFL is making significant progress toward implementing a 17-game schedule for 2021, which will involve major changes to next year’s calendar. Per Mark Maske of the Washington Post, the NFL is looking at a schedule involving a 17-game regular season and a reduction of four preseason games to three for 2021 and beyond.
This would be the second significant change to the NFL schedule in as many years, as 2020 resulted in an expansion of the postseason from 12 to 14 teams (which didn’t add an extra week to the postseason, but two more games). The current NFL collective bargaining agreement states the owners can add a 17th game to the regular-season schedule as soon as the 2021 season, but can be pushed back to later years. The 17-game season is also tied to the completion of the league’s new television contracts. The “Monday Night Football” deal is set to expire this year and the Sunday television deals in 2022.
NFL owners voted in December on a “scheduling formula” for a 17-game season. The plans for the 17th game are expected to be an “interconference matchup based on divisional standings” from the previous campaign, and “on a rotating divisional basis.” An example of this formula would be the first-place team from the NFC East facing the first-place team from the AFC East and the other division teams — based on where they finished in 2020 — would follow suit.
The additional game won’t alter the current scheduling formula, just the 17th game will be a slight tweak. The preseason will be reduced as a result and the expected number is three. A two-game preseason is also reportedly in play, but that would alter the NFL’s 20-game formula of having 10 home and 10 road games per team (regular season and preseason). If the NFL keeps the 20-game formula, 16 teams will have 10 home games (8 regular season and two preseason), while the other 16 will also have 10 — but in a different format (nine regular season and one preseason). This would rotate each season.
The addition of a 17th game would be the NFL’s first regular-season expansion since 1978, when the league upped its regular schedule from 14 games to 16. The league also reduced the preseason from six games to four that year.