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NFL owners approve 17th game for upcoming season; preseason cut to three games

The official NFL logo is seen on the back of a hat.
The NFL has approved a 17-game regular season and a three-game preseason for 2021.
(Chris Delmas / AFP/Getty Images)

Commissioner Roger Goodell says he’s expecting full stadiums for NFL teams from coast to coast this season, and while that’s optimistic and aspirational, this much we know:

The league will have a schedule stuffed to capacity.

NFL owners voted Tuesday to approve a 17-game regular season, beginning this fall, marking the first time since 1978 the league has altered its scheduling structure. In adding a week to the regular season, the owners also trimmed the preseason from four games to three, a welcome change for fans unhappy about paying full price for exhibitions.

After a season of cardboard fans and fake noise, and dramatically diminished stadium capacities in those places where local authorities allowed spectators, Goodell has much higher hopes for this season.

“We had 1.2 million fans safely attend games last year, and all of us in the NFL want to see every one of our fans back,” Goodell said. “Football is simply not the same without fans, and we expect to have full stadiums in the upcoming season.”

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Naturally, there are health and safety concerns to adding a week of games. Goodell pointed out the league has been working for years to make the game safer.

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“Over the last decade, we’ve collaborated with our players and [NFL Players Assn.] medical experts, used injury data and advanced analytics to make changes to the game both on and off the field that have improved the health and safety of our players, and changed the game for the better,” he said.

An expansion of the regular season was a foregone conclusion under the current collective bargaining agreement, adopted a year ago, and dovetails with the league’s new media deals, which nearly doubled and will generate $10 billion per season.

“This change clearly provides us with more meaningful and quality games which otherwise would not have been scheduled,” Goodell said.

For instance, the inaugural slate of 17th games includes Green Bay at Kansas City — featuring quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes — and other nostalgic Super Bowl rematches such as Seattle at Pittsburgh, San Francisco at Cincinnati and Washington at Buffalo.

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

With 17-game NFL season approved, Rams get a road game against the Ravens for the extra game. The preseason is cut to three games.

The format for the extra game will feature teams from opposing conferences that finished in the same place within their division the previous season. AFC teams will play host to all the extra games this season, and the NFC will host next year. Otherwise, some teams in the same conference would have eight home games, while others would have nine.

The Rams play at Baltimore in their extra game, and the Chargers play host to Minnesota.

With the extra games, the league has the ability to schedule as many as four international games per season, with the initial focus on games in Canada, Europe, Mexico, South America and the United Kingdom. The plan calls for each team to play at least once internationally every eight years.


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