The 16-game season will reportedly soon be a thing of the past. According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero, the NFL is planning to expand the regular season from 16 games to 17 games in 2021.
Yahoo Sports’ Charles Robinson reported earlier this month that the NFL had cleared a significant hurdle in moving toward a 17-game schedule by finalizing a formula to determine where that 17th game would come from. The league was reportedly considering cutting the preseason by a game or two as well to make room.
Rapoport and Pelissero also reported that every team will continue to have one bye week, which increases the NFL regular season to 18 weeks. The Super Bowl will be pushed back to the second week in February to accommodate.
The expansion, the first since 1978 when the NFL added two games to every team’s schedule, isn’t likely to be announced for weeks or possibly months. The NFL reportedly has to negotiate a new media contract to make room for the 17th game.
Why is the NFL expanding the schedule?
You can add “expanded NFL season” to the list of things that COVID-19 has directly or indirectly caused. While there was support for adding another game to the NFL schedule before now, COVID-19 sped up the process for one major reason: money.
With every team able to host only a limited number of fans, if any at all, this season, revenues took a hit. The NFL is projecting a multi-billion dollar shortfall, and adding another game in 2021 will help soften the blow. Teams will get the benefit of having another game on their schedules, and the new media deal will add money to everyone’s coffers — not just the NFL and the teams, but the players as well. The new contract will also reportedly prevent the salary cap from dropping all the way to the $175 million floor, which would be a significant decrease from 2020’s $198.2 million.
There isn’t much more known about the 17th NFL game at this time. One of the big questions is which teams will host that game. The NFL could avoid all of that by getting creative with that new game and schedule more games internationally or at neutral sites — when COVID-19 is under control, of course.
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