After releasing the NFL schedule in May last year, it looks like the league has decided to move forward with the same timeline in 2021. According to the Sports Business Journal, the 2021 NFL schedule will be released during the second week of May with the exact date still to be finalized. What this means is that the schedule will likely be released somewhere between May 10-14.
Before last year, the NFL generally released the schedule in April, but due to the pandemic, the release got pushed back to May, and apparently, the league must have liked how things worked out since it's planning a May release for the second straight year.
One big advantage of a May release is that it comes after the draft, which allows the NFL to take into account where some of the higher-profile rookies will be playing in 2021. For instance, the Jaguars and Bengals are playing each other in 2021 and although that might not be a game that usually gets prime-time treatment, if it turns out to be Trevor Lawrence vs. Joe Burrow, it's a game the NFL might consider putting in prime time.
When the NFL schedule does get released, there are likely going to be some major changes and one of the biggest ones is the number of games. After 43 years of playing a 16-game schedule, it's looking more and more like the NFL will finally be expanding things to 17 games starting with the 2021 season. Although that move has been widely expected to happen, NBC's Peter King did offer a few new scheduling nuggets this week of things that will likely change on the schedule if it gets expanded to 17 games.
Here's a quick look at the major changes:
- AFC will host the 17th game. The AFC and NFC will alternate hosting duties for the 17th game every year and for 2021, it looks like the AFC will start things off with the NFC hosting in 2022.
- No extra bye. There had been some speculation that the NFL might add a second bye to the schedule, but it doesn't look like that's going to happen. The 17 games will be played over 18 weeks.
- Monday wild card game might happen. For the 2020 season, the NFL gave us a triple-header on Saturday and Sunday of Super Wild Card Weekend. However, that could be changing and that's because the league is giving some serious thought to moving one of the games to Monday. The NFL wanted to do this last season, but the Monday of Super Wild Card Weekend was the same day as the college football national title game, so it nixed the idea. The likeliest scenario would have two games on Saturday, three games on Sunday and one game on Monday.
- Super Bowl to be pushed back a week. With the regular-season schedule set to be played over 18 weeks (instead of 17), that means the Super Bowl is going to be pushed back a week. If this happens, that means Super Bowl LVI will be played on Feb. 13, which would be the latest that any Super Bowl has been played (Feb. 7 is the currently the latest the game has been played). The NFL's only other option would be to start the season earlier, but moving the openers up one week would mean playing over Labor Day weekend and the league wants to avoid that.
King also noted that the NFL will likely be scheduling two Christmas games this year, which isn't that surprising since the league has been known to do that when Christmas is on a Saturday, as it is this year.
Finally, if you're wondering who your favorite team will be playing in that special 17th game, here are the 16 games that will be added to the schedule if the NFL approves a 17th game:
Packers at Chiefs
Bears at Raiders
Vikings at Chargers
Lions at Broncos
Seahawks at Steelers
Rams at Ravens
Cardinals at Browns
49ers at Bengals
Saints at Titans
Buccaneers at Colts
Panthers at Texans
Falcons at Jaguars
Washington at Bills
Giants at Dolphins
Cowboys at Patriots
Eagles at Jets
The formula is slightly complicated, but basically, it will go like this: The cross-conference match-ups will be based on the cross-conference division that each team played two years ago. Each team will play one opponent from that division that finished in the same spot in the prior year's standings.
For instance, the AFC West played the NFC North in 2019, so each team in that division will play one game against the NFC North in 2021 and the opponent will be against the team that finished in the same spot in the 2020 standings. This is how you get Packers at Chiefs (first place vs. first place) and Bears at Raiders (second place at second place). The other 17th game match-ups are NFC East vs. AFC East, NFC South vs. AFC South and NFC West vs. AFC North.