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17-game schedule reportedly a “go” for 2021

The Football Night in America crew breaks down all the biggest storylines from Week 16, including the Steelers' big win vs. the Colts, the tight Wild Card races and more.

The NFL secured in March the ability to add an extra regular-season game as soon as 2021. For some reason, the NFL recently had been coy about whether a 17th game will be played next year.

The NFL reportedly will exercise its prerogative to add a game, starting in 2021.

“An announcement may not come for weeks, if not months,” the article at explains. The fact that the report appears on the website owned by the NFL necessarily constitutes a de facto announcement, however. (Indeed, if there were important strategic reasons for continuing to keep the intended expansion of the schedule under wraps, it wouldn’t have been published by and openly discussed on NFL Network.)

The report explains that the delay in the official announcement arises from the reality that “the NFL must first negotiate at least one new media contract in order to make the move to 17 games.” The mere fact that this report emerged suggests that the negotiation possibly has been completed (even if on an unofficial basis), perhaps as part of the broader renewal/extension of media rights that have been in the works for months.

The extra game means an extra weekend of action, with 17 games per team spread over 18 weeks. As PFT previously explained, the 17th game will be, for each team, a fifth interconference matchup against an opponent that finished in the same spot in a corresponding division.

The league has wanted to expand the regular season for more than a decade, using the potential shrinkage of the preseason to justify it. The owners, per the report, still haven’t decided whether a 17-game season will include two or three preseason games.

Our guess? The preseason will drop from four to three, leaving 20 total games in the full-season inventory. Then, if/when the league adds an 18th regular-season game, the preseason will cut to two.

As the league tries to repair the financial damage caused by the pandemic, 18 games could be on the table sooner than later. Possibly, 18 games could be part of the looming negotiations with the union on a 2021 salary cap.

Maybe that’s why the league has let it be known now that there will be 17 games in 2021. Maybe, as the NFL and the NFL Players Association move toward the time for figuring out the 2021 cap, the league wants to nudge the door open on 18 games.

Closing the door on the 17-game discussion could be the best way to do that.