NFL approves 17-game regular season beginning in 2021

NFL owners voted on Tuesday to approve an expanded season from 16 games to 17 beginning in 2021. 

That means the regular season length will increase to 18 weeks, while preseason is reduced to three games per team, according to the NFL. 

The 2021 NFL season will kick off Thursday night, Sept. 9 and the regular season will end Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022, according to an NFL press release.

Meanwhile, the Super Bowl will move back a week to Feb. 13, which places it directly in the middle of the Winter Olympics in Beijing. 

Each extra NFL game will be an interconference matchup based on where teams finished in the previous season. AFC teams will be hosting the 17th game in 2021. Beyond next season, the league plans for some of the extra games to be at international sites.

NFL columnist Judy Battista reported that NFL team owners as well as representatives from the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) have been working to add at least one additional game for the past decade.

In March 2020, the NFL and the NFLPA signed a collective bargaining agreement enabling the league — with permission from unions and players — to extend the regular season. 

The extension of the season on Tuesday marked the first time in 43 years the regular season has been increased. It went from 14 to 16 games in 1978.

"This is a monumental moment in NFL history," said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. "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." 

Some players have voiced their unhappiness with the expanded regular season, but Goodell and other league executives point out that data accumulated over the past decade or so show more injuries occur in a preseason game than any other. Also as part of the labor agreement, the players now will receive 48.5% of shareable revenues with a 17th game, up from 47% last season.

This year, the AFC East will host the NFC East in Week 17, with Washington at Buffalo, the New York Giants at Miami, Dallas at New England and Philadelphia at the New York Jets.

The NFC West teams will visit AFC North clubs, with Seattle at Pittsburgh, the Los Angeles Rams at Baltimore, Arizona at Cleveland and San Francisco at Cincinnati.

NFC South members go to the AFC South, so New Orleans will be at Tennessee, Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay at Indianapolis, Carolina at Houston and Atlanta at Jacksonville.

For NFC North clubs, Green Bay goes to Kansas City for a juicy matchup of Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes, while Chicago is at Las Vegas, Minnesota at the Los Angeles Chargers and Detroit at Denver.

The full schedule will be released in May, but the Buccaneers will kick off the season on Thursday, Sept. 9. The regular season will end Jan. 9.

As for fans in the stands — 119 games, including the postseason, had some in-person attendance during the coronavirus-impacted 2020 season, with approximately 1.2 millions fans in total — Goodell sounded optimistic.

"We're discussing plans to welcome back all fans across the country at all stadiums," he said. "All of us want to see every one of our fans back. Football is not the same without fans, and we expect to have full stadiums in the upcoming season."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.