Updated: Jun 22, 2021
Starting this year, every NFL team will play a 17-game regular season schedule for the first time ever. The expansion is part of the NFL’s new collective bargaining agreement that was signed by the 32 team owners, commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL Players Association during the 2020 season. The new CBA will last 10 years, and includes changes to how players are paid, the NFL preseason as well as the regular season schedule.
In the old 16-game format, players would be paid in 17 weekly installments, one for each game and one for the bye week. With the new agreement, players will be paid over a 36-week period. This means players will receive payments outside of the regular season, but will only receive 1/36th of their salary instead of 1/17th.
The collective bargaining agreement also states that no NFL team will play more than 20 preseason and regular season games each year. This means the preseason will be shortened to a maximum of three games per team. Some teams might only play two preseason games.
NFL seasons will now run a week later than they usually would. The upcoming Superbowl, which was originally planned for February 6th, 2022, is now being played on February 13th, 2022 at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California.
Each team will only have one bye week despite the 17-game schedule expansion.
The NFL has not expanded the regular season since 1978, when the league introduced the 16-game schedule in lieu of the 14-game regular season.
The introduction of the 17-game season also means less symmetry within scheduling. In the 2021 season, all AFC teams will play an extra home game, nine at home, and eight on the road. In the 2022 season it will switch to the NFC playing nine home games.
The extra week in the season led to a new matchup format for the 18th week of play. The league will match each division with a division from the opposing conference, and then rotate the matchups each season. For this upcoming season: AFC East teams will play NFC East teams, AFC North teams will play NFC West teams, AFC South teams will play NFC South teams and AFC West teams will play NFC North teams.
A total of 16 extra games throughout the season means the NFL will have opportunities to fill spots in the new TV deals that were also recently signed. This could mean more international games, Monday Night Football double headers or games on Saturdays later in the season.
Other parts of the new CBA include lowering the maximum amount time players are required to spend at training facilities and making OTAs (organized team activities) optional for players. The NFLPA is advocated and negotiated these terms in order to limit the wear and tear on players’ bodies.
The 2021 NFL season will kick off on Thursday, September 9th with a matchup between the Dallas Cowboys and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and will conclude on Sunday, January 9th, 2022.