The annual NFL Owners Meeting is taking place this week, and this year it focused mainly on business topics, leaving the rule changes until they meet again in mid-April.
One of the top items covered was the expansion of the regular season schedule, with owners voting to expand to a 17-game regular season schedule, adding one from the 16-game schedule that has been the norm since 1978. As a result, teams will now have just three preseason games, although the Steelers will have four due to playing the Dallas Cowboys in the Hall of Fame game.
The NFL-NFLPA Collective Bargaining Agreement signed in March, 2020 allows the league, with the approval of the union and players, to enhance the regular season with a move to 17 games. This is the first time the NFL had changed the season structure since the 1978 season when they went from 14 regular season games to 16 regular season games and four preseason games. The 17th game announcement comes just a short time after the league announced long-term media distribution agreements which provides fans greater access than ever to NFL games. According to NFL.com, per the current CBA, the NFL first had to negotiate at least one new media contract to make the move to expand to 17 games.
"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."
With the addition of a 17th game to the regular season schedule, the Steelers will now play the Seattle Seahawks at Heinz Field in 2021. For each team, the 17th game features an opponent from the opposing conference that finished in the same place within their division the previous season. The AFC was determined to be the home conference for the 17th game in the 2021 season. The full NFL schedule will come out later this spring.
Last week Steelers President Art Rooney II spoke about the potential of the 17-game season during a call with Steelers Nation Unite members and expected it to pass and be effective.
"The 17-game schedule I think will work out well," said Rooney during the fan call. "Obviously, this year will be the first year for it, so we'll get a chance to see how it goes. It will be a similar kind of schedule in terms of the calendar, but we will just turn one of the preseason games into a regular season game, which I think all of us would appreciate.
"I feel good about it, I hope it works, and I look forward to seeing how it does in 2021."
The 2021 full NFL schedule will be announced later this spring, with special programming on NFL Network and all the details on Steelers.com. The 2021 season will start with the NFL Kickoff Weekend, which gets started on Thursday night, Sept. 9, and regular season play will end on Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022. The 2022 Pro Bowl will be played on Sunday, Feb. 6 at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas and Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles on Sunday, Feb. 13, 2022.
Beginning in 2022, every team will play internationally at least once every eight years. The scheduling of up to four neutral-site games per year in a country outside the United States will focus initially on Canada, Europe, Mexico, South America and the United Kingdom. Teams can also continue to volunteer to play home games internationally.
From the NFL:
Under the scheduling formula below, every team plays 17 regular-season games with one bye week. Clubs will host 10 games overall – either nine regular-season games and one preseason game or eight regular-season games and two preseason games.
• Home and away against its three division opponents (six games).
• The four teams from another division within its conference on a rotating three-year cycle (four games).
• The four teams from a division in the other conference on a rotating four-year cycle (four games).
• Two intraconference games based on the prior year's standings (two games). These games match a first-place team against the first-place teams in the two same-conference divisions the team is not scheduled to play that season. The second-place, third-place and fourth-place teams in a conference are matched in the same way each year.
• One interconference game based on the prior year's standings on a rotating four-year cycle (one game). These games match a first-place team from one division against a first-place team in an opposite conference division that the team is not scheduled to play that season. The second-place, third-place and fourth-place teams in each division are matched in the same way each year. The home conference for this game will rotate each season.
Steelers 2021 Opponents Information:
At home the Steelers will play the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns in the North, in addition to the Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions, Las Vegas Raiders, Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans. The Seahawks were added when the NFL expanded to 17 regular season games.
On the road the team will face Baltimore, Cincinnati and Cleveland, as well as the Buffalo Bills, Green Bay Packers, Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Chargers and Minnesota Vikings.
2021 Regular Season Opponents (2020 Regular Season Record)
Baltimore Ravens (11-5)
Cincinnati Bengals (4-11-1)
Cleveland Browns (11-5)
Buffalo Bills (13-3)
Chicago Bears (8-8)
Denver Broncos (5-11)
Detroit Lions (5-11)
Green Bay Packers (13-3)
Kansas City Chiefs (14-2)
Las Vegas Raiders (8-8)
Los Angeles Chargers (7-9)
Minnesota Vikings (7-9)
Seattle Seahawks (12-4)
Tennessee Titans (11-5)