What NFL's addition of 17th game in 2021 means for Patriots


We're about to have one more weekend of meaningful football this fall.

The NFL confirmed Tuesday each team will play a 17-game schedule in 2021. There had been plenty of reports about the NFL adding a 17th game, but the new format finally is official.

The new schedule essentially converts one preseason game into a regular-season game, with three preseason contests and 17 regular-season matchups. The regular season still will start on Thursday, Sept. 9, but Super Bowl LVI has been pushed back one week and now will be played on Sunday, Feb. 13, 2022.

So, what does the new schedule mean for the New England Patriots? Here's a quick breakdown.

Who will the Patriots play in their 17th game?

The NFL confirmed a previous report from NBC Sports' Peter King that the 17th game will be determined by the following formula: "AFC versus NFC (with AFC hosting), cross-conference matchup from two years ago, 2021 matchup based on 2020 standings."

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That means the Patriots will host Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys went 6-10 last season without Prescott but should be much improved with their star quarterback under center, so this could be a good game at Gillette Stadium.


Patriots Season Ticket Holders Benefit

ESPN's Mike Reiss passed along a note that will surely excite fans lucky enough to own season tickets to Patriots games at Gillette Stadium. 

Which other extra games may interest Patriots fans?

We can think of at least two. Tom Brady and the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers play their additional game against the Indianapolis Colts, where Carson Wentz is the expected starter after his trade from the Philadelphia Eagles. Brady vs. Wentz is a fun matchup, and this will mark TB12's 20th game against the Colts in his lengthy career.

Curran: Patriots are letting QB game come to them

NFL fans also get a treat in Aaron Rodgers vs. Patrick Mahomes when the Green Bay Packers visit the Kansas City Chiefs. Patriots fans may tune in to watch former New England offensive guard Joe Thuney, who signed a lucrative contract with the Chiefs in free agency.

When will the NFL schedule be released?

The NFL is targeting the second week of May to release the full 2021 schedule, according to Ben Fischer of the Sports Business Journal. That means sometime between May 10 and May 14. It also means the schedule will be released after the NFL Draft, so we should have a good idea of the Patriots' quarterback situation by then.

Bill Belichick loaded up on free agents this offseason, and the newcomers will have an extra game to prove their worth in New England as the Patriots aim to get back in the postseason.

In any case, we know they won't finish 7-9 again.