NFL clubs on Tuesday, March 30 approved at a virtual league meeting an enhanced season structure that beginning in 2021 will feature each team playing 17 regular-season games and three preseason games for the first time.
The NFL-NFLPA Collective Bargaining Agreement signed in March 2020 enables the league, with the approval of the union and its players, to enhance the regular season with a move to 17 games, providing fans an extra week of regular-season NFL action.
That decision was confirmed Tuesday, marking the first change to the season structure since the 1978 campaign ushered in an era of 16 regular-season and four preseason games. It follows the March 18 announcement of long-term media distribution agreements providing fans greater access to NFL games than ever before.
“This is a monumental moment in NFL history,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement issued by the league. “The CBA with the players and the recently completed media agreements provide the foundation for us to enhance the quality of the NFL experience for our fans. And one of the benefits of each team playing 17 regular-season games is the ability for us to continue to grow our game around the world.”
The 17th game will feature teams from opposing conferences that finished in the same place within their division the previous season. The AFC was determined to be the home conference for the 17th game in 2021. The NFC South is matched with the AFC South which means the Saints, division champs for four consecutive seasons, will play at the Tennessee Titans, who won their division in 2020.
The Saints’ 2021 regular-season schedule:
Home: Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Buffalo Bills, Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers, Miami Dolphins, New York Giants.
Away: Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New England Patriots, New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles, Seattle Seahawks, Tennessee Titans, Washington Football Team.
Under the scheduling formula below, every team plays 17 regular-season games with one bye week. Clubs will host 10 games overall – either nine regular-season games and one preseason game or eight regular-season games and two preseason games.
- Home and away against its three division opponents (six games).
- The four teams from another division within its conference on a rotating three-year cycle (four games).
- The four teams from a division in the other conference on a rotating four-year cycle (four games).
- Two intraconference games based on the prior year’s standings (two games). These games match a first-place team against the first-place teams in the two same-conference divisions the team is not scheduled to play that season. The second-place, third-place and fourth-place teams in a conference are matched in the same way each year.
- One interconference game based on the prior year’s standings on a rotating four-year cycle (one game). These games match a first-place team from one division against a first-place team in an opposite conference division that the team is not scheduled to play that season. The second-place, third-place and fourth-place teams in each division are matched in the same way each year. The home conference for this game will rotate each season.
The official 2021 schedule, with playing dates and times, will be announced later this spring on NFL Network and NFL.com.
NFL Kickoff Weekend will begin Thursday, Sept. 9, and the regular season will end Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022. The 2022 Pro Bowl will be played Sunday, Feb. 6 at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas and the season will conclude with Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles on Sunday, Feb. 13, 2022.
The enhanced season will ensure that beginning in 2022, all 32 clubs will play internationally at least once every eight years. The scheduling of up to four neutral-site games per year in a country outside the United States will focus initially on Canada, Europe, Mexico, South America and the United Kingdom. In addition, interested clubs can continue to volunteer to play home games internationally, as is currently the case.
(Release provided by the New Orleans Saints)