For the first time in 43 years, the NFL is adding a regular-season game to the schedule, increasing to 17 games from 16.
The move, widely expected since the NFL and the NFL Players Association hammered out a 10-year collective bargaining agreement last March, marks the first time the NFL has increased the regular-season schedule since 1978, when the league went from 14 to 16 games. The move comes less than two weeks after the NFL completed multi-billion-dollar contracts with its broadcasting partners.
"This is a monumental moment in NFL history," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said. "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."
As part of Tuesday’s agreement, the NFL will reduce its preseason schedule from four games to three.
The added game will be an interconference matchup between teams that finished in the same position in their respective divisions during the previous season. The home team for those games will rotate each year, with AFC teams hosting this season’s games.
The 17th game for the Giants will be at Miami, while the Jets will host the Eagles at MetLife Stadium.
The NFL is expected to release its 2021 schedule in May. The regular season will begin on Thursday night, Sept. 9 and will end on Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022. The Pro Bowl will be held Feb. 6 at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, and Super Bowl LVI will be held at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles on Sunday, Feb. 13.
While players will benefit by earning bigger salaries with the extra game, many are unhappy about extending an already strenuous regular season.
"I don’t agree with it," Texans running back David Johnson told the Houston Chronicle on Monday. "As football players, especially as a running back, it’s tough to get through injury-free."
Saints running back Alvin Kamara criticized the move, too. He called the move "dumb as hell" this week.
Goodell told reporters on a conference call Tuesday afternoon that the league remains mindful of injury-related ramifications of the added game.
"The highest rate of injury is in preseason games," he said. "We’re following the data to make sure we’re doing things from a health and safety standpoint. This will not be the end of our health and safety initiatives."
Goodell also said he hopes to have full stadiums at all games this season as the country increases vaccination rates for COVID-19.
"All of us in the NFL want to see every one of our fans back," he said. "Football is simply not the same without the fans, and we expect to have full stadiums in the 2021 season." He did not indicate any specific plans for potential protocols for fans to attend games.
Goodell also said that while players won’t be required to be vaccinated, the league will "make sure we’re doing everything to educate our players and all of our personnel about the importance of vaccinations, that it does help protect you from obtaining COVID and from spreading it. We’re going to be encouraging all our personnel to get vaccinations."
NFL owners also approved a measure that would have all teams play at least one international game every eight years. The scheduling of up to four international games will focus on Canada, Europe, Mexico, South America and the United Kingdom.