Expanded NFL Schedule, Explained: How A 17-Game Season Will Work With Byes, Playoffs & More

During the 2021 offseason, the NFL made a major change to its schedule. The league has extended it to 17 games in total.

The schedule expansion was the NFL’s first since 1978, when the league went from a 14-game schedule to a 16-game schedule. The NFL has used the 16-game roster for 43 years.

But now the league has added to its schedule again and will dive head first into the new 17-game format in 2022.

“This is a monumental moment in NFL history,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said of the schedule extension in a statement. “The ABCs with players and the recent media deals allow us to improve the quality of the NFL experience for our fans. And one of the benefits of every team that plays 17 regular season games is the ability for us to continue to grow our game around the world. « 

Here’s everything you need to know about the schedule extension and its impact on the 2021 NFL season.

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Why has the NFL expanded to a 17-game schedule?

It’s all about the money. NFL owners believe they can make more money – and « grow the game, » as Goodell mentioned in his statement – with a 17-game regular season and a three-game preseason. games than they can with the previous regular season of 16 games and four games. pre-season.

The NFL had the option of expanding the schedule to 17 games built into the ABC; they only had to sign a new media contract before they could exercise it. The league achieved this and exercised its expansion clause ahead of the 2022 season.

Season expansion was always inevitable once the NFLPA and owners accepted it into the CBA. Beyond that, the timing – after the COVID pandemic pushed fans out of stadiums and caused many owners to lose money for lack of door receipts and concession sales – makes the decision sane.

How will the 17-game NFL schedule work?


The extension to a 17-game schedule has caused a big change in the NFL’s preseason schedule. Instead of each team playing four preseason games, each team will now play three (with the exception of Hall of Fame game participants who will participate in a fourth preseason game).

That said, while the preseason is a bit shorter, it will still be a fruitful opportunity for NFL coaches to assess the depth of their roster. Over the past few seasons, we’ve seen coaches stop using their starters during the preseason. In 2021, new Chargers coach Brandon Staley plans to sign quarterback Justin Herbert, among other things, to make sure they stay healthy.

Decreasing roles for newbies will provide plenty of opportunities for NFL coaches to assess deep players on their rosters. As such, shortening the preseason won’t matter too much to teams and could be beneficial as teams seek to avoid preseason injuries to their most important players.

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Regular season

Obviously, the regular season is now a week longer than before. The start of the season remains unchanged, meaning the playoffs will be pushed back a week to make room for the extra game. As a result, the Super Bowl will take place on February 13, 2022 instead of February 6, 2022 this season.

Plus, the scheduling symmetry is gone, as some NFL teams will have nine home games and eight road games while others will play eight at home and nine on the road. This could give teams with more home games a slight competitive edge, although that number changes from year to year.

Finishing with a record .500 is now unlikely as well. To do this, a team would have to score a tie and do 8-8-1. Technically, there are more ways for a team to go .500 than that, but all would require at least three draws, including a scenario where a team could go 0-0-17 to finish with a .500 record. .

Other than that, there aren’t many changes to the schedule itself. There is only one game left.

Is the NFL adding another week off to the schedule?

No. Teams will still only have one week off on a 17-game schedule.

Are the playoffs impacted by a 17-game schedule?

The NFL playoffs will be pushed back by about a week since the NFL season begins at the same time but adds another week to the regular season. This means that the Super Bowl will no longer take place on the first Sunday in February; it will be played on the second Sunday in February.

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Could NFL teams choose to rest players more in a 17-game season?

It certainly seems possible. NFL players suffer a lot of wear and tear, so as the season goes on, teams will have to deal more with the health of their players, especially non-contending teams. Games are still scarce at the NFL level, so load management does not seem likely. But in the later stages of the season, teams out of action might choose to rest their starters earlier or more than usual.

How does a 17-game schedule impact fantasy football?

It depends on the structure of your league. However, with the NFL season now stretching to 18 weeks, fantasy owners will have the option to upgrade to a 17-week schedule while skipping the traditionally avoided last week of the season.

At Sporting News, we anticipate that most fantasy leagues will adopt a 17-week schedule to accommodate this change.

How was the 17th game of the NFL decided?

The format for deciding on the 17th NFL Game is relatively straightforward. The NFL pits the AFC and NFC divisions against each other, and opponents are determined based on their result in last year’s standings. First place teams compete with first place teams, second place with second place, etc.

In 2021, the divisional clashes are as follows:

  • AFC East vs. NFC East
  • NFC North vs. AFC West
  • NFC South vs. AFC South
  • NFC West vs. AFC North

For example, the Washington football team finished first in the NFC East while the Buffalo Bills finished first in the AFC East. Thus, they will face each other, just like the No. 2 of these divisions, the Giants and the Dolphins. The same will be true for the third place teams, the Cowboys and the Patriots. The NFL did this for each division to determine Game 17.

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How are the other 16 scheduled NFL games decided?

The NFL has long had a formula for determining the 16 opponents for each team. It is as follows:

  • Six games (home and away) against division opponents
  • Four games against a full non-conference division; divisions run on an annual basis
  • Four games against a full division in conference; again the divisions rotate every year
  • Two games against the remaining conference opponents who finished at the same divisional level the previous season (example: the third place team in AFC East would place the third place team in AFC North) .

Will the NFL ever expand to 18 games?

Maybe, but that won’t happen until after the 2030 season. The NFL CBA has given owners the right to expand to a 17-game schedule, but any further extensions beyond that would have to be negotiated with players. Given that not everyone was happy with the 17-game extension, expanding to an 18-game schedule over the next decade does not seem likely.

The NFL might like the idea of ​​an 18-game season, however. This would allow the return of lineup symmetry with each team playing nine home games and nine on the road. Additionally, Game 18 would allow the NFL to spend another week in its season, meaning the Super Bowl would be played the day before President’s Day, a national holiday, in most years.

The NFL has expressed a desire to host the Super Bowl on the eve of President’s Day, which falls on the third Monday in February. Under the current CBA, this will happen in 2027, when the Super Bowl falls on February 14. But if the league added one more week, it would happen almost every year.

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