The NFL is set to implement a 17-game schedule this week, the first time the league will expand the schedule since 1978 when games were increased from 14 games to 16 games, per ESPN's Adam Schefter. The league's owners will meet this week and are expected to ratify the schedule expansion, as has been expected for several months.
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 despite adding 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 that can be pushed back to later years.
As for the 2021 regular season schedule -- here's what to expect, per Warren Sharp of Sharp Football Analysis:
- No extra bye week (17 games on 18 weekends)
- Week 1 (first regular season Sunday): Sept. 12, 2021 (week after Labor Day weekend)
- Week 18 (final regular season Sunday): Jan. 9, 2022
- Super Bowl Sunday: Feb. 13, 2022 (week before President's Day weekend)
- Wild Card Weekend will have two games on Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022; three games on Sunday, Jan. 16, 2022; and one game on Monday, Jan. 17, 2022.
The 17-game season is also tied to the completion of the league's new television contracts, which were announced this month. The new television deals won't start until 2023, but the league is expected to alter the current deals for expansion.
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; the 17th game will be a slight tweak. The preseason will be reduced as a result, with the expected number of preseason games to be 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 2021 NFL schedule is expected to be announced in May. For the first time since 1946, the NFL would have an odd number of games in a non-strike season.