April 19, 2021

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NFL to expand regular season to 17 games, starting in 2021

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For the first time in 43 years, the NFL is expanding its regular season.

In a long-anticipated move, Commissioner Roger Goodell confirmed Tuesday that the league will add an extra game to every team’s schedule in 2021 – meaning all 32 clubs will play 17 games henceforth.

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

“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.”

The announcement comes fewer than two weeks since the NFL struck a new 11-year broadcast agreement – worth more than $10 billion annually to the league, per reports. However an extra week’s worth of games provides another round of valuable content for its partners at a time when the league is exclusively shifting some games to streaming outlets like Amazon.

The NFL and NFL Players Association agreed with the ratification of last year’s collective bargaining agreement that a 17th game could be added at the discretion of the league and its teams, i.e. owners. The CBA, which currently extends through the 2030 season, stipulates that the NFL cannot add an 18th regular-season game and will also have to reduce the standard preseason schedule from four games per club to a maximum of three. (The league canceled the entire preseason in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic.)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) and tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) will try to defend their Super Bowl title in the NFL's first 17-game regular season.

The NFL cannot use the enlarged schedule as a means to a large-scale commitment to international games. Per the CBA, “the extra week shall not consist entirely of international games.” In addition, there can’t be more than 10 total regular-season games played abroad in a given year until at least 2025, at which point that portion of the agreement can be revisited.

Beginning in 2022, every team will play in an international game at least once every eight years, the league announced Tuesday. 

Last year, the NFL added two wild-card teams to the playoffs, boosting the number of postseason entrants to 14. Previously, the playoff field had featured 12 clubs since 1990. The last time the regular season broadened was 1978, when the schedule grew from 14 games per team to 16.

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Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.

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