During their virtual owners meeting on Tuesday, NFL owners approved a resolution to begin the 17-game regular-season schedule this fall. Envisioned by last year’s new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the new scheduling plan will also reduce the number of preseason games to three — except for the two teams playing in the annual Hall of Fame game, which will play a fourth preseason game.
The league has been playing 16 regular-season games (and four preseason games) since 1978.
As expected, the 17th game for each team will be an inter-conference matchup, so that the additional game will have as little impact on existing playoff-seeding rules as possible. Franchises will face a team from the opposing conference division they played two seasons before — specifically, against the team that finished in the same position within their division during the previous season.
For example, the Kansas City Chiefs will play against an NFC North team in 2021, because that was the NFC division they played under the normal divisional rotation in 2019. And since the NFC North’s Green Bay Packers — like the Chiefs — finished atop their division in 2020, they will now play the Chiefs in 2021.
As an additional safeguard to the 17th game creating too much havoc in playoff seeding, the home teams will rotate by conference each year. The AFC teams will go first, playing their additional inter-conference games at home in 2021. The NFC teams will be at home for theirs in 2022 — and so on.
This means that each season, some teams will have nine home games and eight road games — and vice versa. So the league will counteract this with the preseason schedule. If a team is short a home game in the regular season, it will play two preseason games at home — and vice versa. That way, each team will host 10 games and play 10 on the road.
But at least some of these home games will be virtual home games. Beginning in 2022, the just-adopted resolution allows the league to schedule up to four of these inter-conference games as international games. Essentially, the league is abandoning its haphazard system for scheduling them in favor of a scheme where each team plays in one every eight years — and won’t have to give up a normal home game (that is, a division or conference game with potential playoff implications) to do so.
The door will remain open for additional international games — if individual teams volunteer to give up home games to play them.
When the final schedule is ultimately released (probably sometime in May), there will be a bye week in between the final preseason game and the beginning of the regular season — but there will still be only one bye week during the season. So the postseason schedule will all move back one week — meaning that Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California will be played on Sunday, February 13.
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