Last year, the NFL secured the ability to expand the regular season to 17 games. The league is moving closer to officially implementing a 17-game schedule for 2021.
Via Mark Maske of the Washington Post, expansion of the regular season is “not yet certain,” but it’s currently believed that the league will adjust the annual 20-game slate from 16 regular-season games and four preseason games to 17 and three.
Owners previously had been debating whether to move the preseason to three or to two games. Last year, the NFL had no preseason games, due to the pandemic. This year, the pandemic once again could limit or eliminate the slate of exhibition games.
As one source with knowledge of the dynamics recently explained it to PFT, the push to complete new TV deals has more to do with officially expanding the regular season to 17 games and less to do with potentially borrowing against future revenues to increase the 2021 salary cap.
The NFL has staged a total of 20-game preseason/regular season for decades. Before the regular season moved to 16 games in 1978, the NFL played 14 regular-season games and six preseason games. Keeping the preseason at three games keeps the total slate at 20.
Perhaps more importantly, a 17-and-three approach also ensures that teams will host 10 total games per year. The 17-game regular season will result in half of the teams having nine home games and the other half having eight. In turn, the half that has nine regular-season home games will have one preseason home game. The half that has eight regular-season homes games will have two preseason home games.
It’s also impossible to completely rule out what would be a sudden and largely unexpected push for 18 regular-season games and two preseason games. The league could, in theory, make that request to the NFL Players Association as part of the negotiations that will culminate in the setting of the 2021 salary cap. Likewise, the union could suggest a move to 18 in order to capture enhanced revenues, in 2021 and beyond.