The NFL adding a 17th game to the regular season schedule appears imminent, and if this reported formula holds true, the 49ers will be adding a date against a former No. 1 overall draft pick to the 2021 schedule.
NBC Sports' Peter King reported in early March that the league had decided an interesting formula among a number of 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," King wrote.
Cross-conference matchups in the NFL are done by division. In 2019, the 49ers and the rest of the NFC West took on the entirety of the AFC North: the Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers.
So with the 49ers finishing last in the NFC West in 2020 with a 6-10 record, that sets them up for a matchup with the Bengals according to King's reporting. The third-place Arizona Cardinals would play the Browns, the Los Angeles Rams would face the Ravens and the Seattle Seahawks would face their division-winning counterpart Steelers.
Here is a full breakdown of the potential matchups in the 17th game by King's formula.
The league is expected to vote on the addition to the schedule this week, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Sunday. The NFL likely would adjust to just three preseason games in order to avoid two additional weeks to the season.
The 49ers cruised to a 41-17 win at Paul Brown Stadium in Week 2 of the 2019 season, as Jimmy Garoppolo threw for 296 yards and three touchdowns. Cincinnati finished with the league's worst record (2-14) that year and drafted Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow with the first overall pick.
The Bengals might not be the only team with a different QB under center if this matchup comes to fruition next season, as the 49ers' trade to move up to the No. 3 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft seems to confirm the team's interest in bringing in a new franchise QB.
The 49ers reportedly aren't interested in trading Garoppolo, and might have him remain the starter in 2021 and allow the rookie they select in late April to develop and learn coach Kyle Shanahan's schemes.
Cincinnati finished 4-11-1 in 2020, but did lose Burrow 10 games into his rookie season to a knee injury.
The 49ers' cross-conference matchups already confirmed in 2021 come from the AFC South, so the Bengals would be added to games against the Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans.
We'll see this week whether the vote indeed goes through and the game is added to the 49ers' 2021 slate, but we could see a matchup of very recent top-five draft pick quarterbacks.