The expansion of the regular season was a guarantee when the NFL ratified the newest collective bargaining agreement earlier this month, but it became officially official on Tuesday. The NFL regular season is now 17 games.
“This is a monumental moment in NFL history,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “The CBA with the players and the recently completed media agreements provide the foundation for us to enhance the quality of the NFL experience for our fans. And one of the benefits of each team playing 17 regular-season games is the ability for us to continue to grow our game around the world.”
The 2020 season saw the expansion of the NFL playoff bracket, from 12 teams to 14, for the first time since 1990, and the 2021 campaign will see the growth of the regular season for the first time since 1978, when the season grew from 14 games to 16.
The regular season will still begin on the Thursday after Labor Day (Sept. 9, 2021) and each team will still receive one off week, which means the playoffs will now begin one week later. The Wild Card round will be the weekend of Jan. 15-16, and Super Bowl LVI will now be played Sunday, Feb. 13, 2022 at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles.
Fair warning: this means we will get a Valentine's Day Super Bowl once every seven years or so.
When it became obvious back in 2019 that the 16-game season was on borrowed time, I suggested the league could use the following format for the 17th game to accomplish a number of league objectives:
-- Reduce the preseason from four games to two (an owners compromise to players)
-- Add an extra off week (another win for players)
-- Use the extra off week to give each team an overseas game every season (a win for owners)
In reality, the NFL didn't go quite that far:
-- The preseason will drop from four games to three
-- Each team will still receive only one off week
-- Every team will play overseas at least once every eight years, beginning in 2022
To schedule the 17th game, the NFL created a formula that will see each team play a fifth inter-conference game against an opponent with a similar record from prior seasons.
Teams sent on the road for the 17th game will get two home preseason games, thereby still allowing owners to charge season-ticket holders for 10 home games per season.
It would have been nice to see the league use Game 17 as an avenue to develop inter-conference geographic rivalries (Cowboys-Texans, Steelers-Eagles, Giants-Jets, etc.), the NFL instead chose uniformity over creativity.