On Monday morning, we got some nuggets of information about the 2021 NFL schedule from NBC Sports’ Peter King in his weekly “Football Morning in America” column.
King said that it’s looking more and more likely the league will go ahead with its 17-game schedule in 2021.
The 17-game schedule is highly likely in 2021. No surprise there. TV partners and NFL schedulers are working under the assumption that the 17-game schedule (the way was paved for it last March when players approved a new CBA) will debut in 2021.
From a report by NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero and Ian Rapoport in late December, we had already learned that the league was leaning that way.
An announcement may not come for weeks, if not months, since the NFL must first negotiate at least one new media contract in order to make the move to 17 games in 2021, per the collective bargaining agreement. But as one team source apprised of discussions said: “We’re all anticipating it’s going to happen.”
Since King is known to have reliable sources within the television networks and among NFL schedulers, his new report adds credence to what had previously been reported. King also said that the new schedule is not likely to include an additional bye week — or even start earlier than usual.
The league calendar gets pushed back one week, with a likely Feb. 13 Super Bowl in Los Angeles. No extra bye — 17 games in 18 weekends. Super Bowl LVI, originally scheduled for Feb. 6, 2022 and airing on NBC, has not been officially moved yet. The league hasn’t said a word about moving the game to officials in Los Angeles. But the NFL won’t start the season on the ratings-quashing Labor Day weekend, and the league doesn’t want to add an extra regular-season bye week. So that adds up to Feb. 13, which would be the latest Super Bowl in history.
King also did his best to predict which teams would be scheduled for the 17th game.
A note about how the league configured the extra game: When the NFL was choosing options, the formula that prevailed — follow me now — was AFC versus NFC, cross-conference matchup from two years ago, 2021 matchup based on 2020 standings.
What King is saying is that each team’s 17th game will be against a team from the same division they played from the opposite conference two seasons before — but it will be against the team that finished that division in the same position one season ago.
In other words, the 17th game will be a third game based on the previous year’s schedule. The two existing games are against opponents from the same conference; this third one will instead be an inter-conference matchup. By basing the division of the opponent on the current rotating opposing conference divisional schedule, the league is making it possible for us to know each team’s opponents for the coming season as soon as the previous season is complete.
It’s also another way the league can scheme to provide a regular-season rematch of the previous season’s Super Bowl — or a preview of the next one.
For the Chiefs, this means that they would be facing the Green Bay Packers in 2021. Kansas City played the NFC North in 2019 — and both teams finished 2020 atop their respective divisions.
And according to King, this Chiefs-Packers matchup would be played at Arrowhead Stadium.
Hearing it’s most likely to be AFC hosting all 16 newly invented games in 2021. Then NFC teams hosting in 2022. If that’s how it goes, it’s the fairest way. Competitive equity is the key. You don’t want three NFC East teams playing eight at home and the fourth playing nine at home.
None of this is official yet. But King is generally very reliable with this kind of information. We wouldn’t bet against the schedule playing out exactly this way:
Home: Denver Broncos, Los Angeles Chargers, Las Vegas Raiders, Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers.
Away: Denver Broncos, Los Angeles Chargers, Las Vegas Raiders, Cincinnati Bengals, Philadelphia Eagles, Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans and Washington Football Team.
The full NFL schedule won’t be released for a while — perhaps as late as mid-May.