NFL to expand regular season to 17 games, starting in 2021

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How the NFL’s 17-game season will work and why it could create best games of the year

SportsPulse: The NFL owners officially approved a 17-game, 18-week regular season. Mackenzie Salmon looks at how a 17 game season will work and why it could create some of the best games of the year.

USA TODAY

For the first time in 43 years, the NFL is expanding its regular season.

In a long-anticipated move, Commissioner Roger Goodell confirmed Tuesday that the league will add an extra game to every team’s schedule in 2021 – meaning all 32 clubs will play 17 games henceforth.

“This is a monumental moment in NFL history,” Goodell said in a statement.

“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 announcement comes fewer than two weeks since the NFL struck a new 11-year broadcast agreement – worth more than $10 billion annually to the league, per reports. However an extra week’s worth of games provides another round of valuable content for its partners at a time when the league is exclusively shifting some games to streaming outlets like Amazon.

The NFL and NFL Players Association agreed with the ratification of last year’s new collective bargaining agreement that a 17th game could be added at the discretion of the league and its teams, i.e. owners. The CBA, which currently extends through the 2030 season, also stipulates that the NFL cannot add an 18th regular-season game and will also have to reduce the standard preseason schedule from four games per club to three. (The league canceled the entire preseason in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic.)

The NFL cannot use the enlarged schedule as a means to a large-scale commitment to international games. Per the CBA, “the extra week shall not consist entirely of international games.” In addition, there can’t be more than 10 total regular-season games played abroad in a given year until at least 2025, at which point that portion of the agreement can be revisited.

Beginning in 2022, all 32 NFL teams will play in an international game at least once every eight years, the league announced Tuesday. 

Last year, the league added two wild-card teams to the playoff field, boosting the number of postseason entrants to 14. Previously, the playoff field had featured 12 clubs since 1990. The last time the regular season broadened was 1978, when the schedule grew from 14 games per team to 16.

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Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.

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