17-Game Schedule Means Additional Falcons-AFC Matchup

Matt Ryan

Todd Kirkland/Getty Images Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons puts his helmet on prior to a game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on September 15, 2019.

The NFL has played a 16-game regular season since 1978, but per Peter King of NBC Sports, the league is “very likely” to move to a 17-game schedule in 2021, as “TV partners and NFL schedulers are working under the assumption that the 17-game schedule … will debut in 2021.”

Here’s who the Atlanta Falcons are slated to play in 2021, including the likely opponent for a 17th game:

Falcons Will Play a Fourth-Place Schedule

As last place finishers in the NFC South, the Falcons will play a fourth-place schedule in 2021.

As always, Atlanta will take on its NFC South rivals—the Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers—home and away.

As per the normal rotation among divisions, the Falcons will also face each of the teams in the AFC East and NFC East.

And by virtue of the fourth-place schedule, the Falcons will take on the fourth-place teams from the NFC North and NFC West.

Mercedes-Benz Stadium
Carolina Panthers
New Orleans Saints
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Detroit Lions
New England Patriots
New York Jets
Philadelphia Eagles
Washington Football Team

Away Games
Carolina Panthers
New Orleans Saints
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Buffalo Bills
Dallas Cowboys
Miami Dolphins
New York Giants
San Francisco 49ers

Who Will the Falcons Play in the 17th Game?

Assuming a 17-game schedule becomes reality, the added game will be a cross-conference matchup that will be determined on a rotating basis.

According to King, the NFL is still planning to utilize the formula that Albert Breer reported in late December of last year. That is, the “1-game crossover” rotation would start with the NFC East/AFC East, NFC North/AFC West, NFC South/AFC South, and NFC West/AFC North, with first place teams playing each other, second place teams playing each other, etc.

In this scenario, the Falcons would play the fourth-place team from the AFC South—the Jacksonville Jaguars—who went 1-15 in 2020 and hold the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. If the Jaguars use that pick to draft Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, the Falcons might be facing the former Cartersville High School star next season.

As for the site of the 17th game, the plan is for all of the teams in one conference to get an extra home game in 2021. Then in 2022, all the teams in the other conference would get an extra home game.

King says he’s “hearing it’s most likely to be [the] AFC hosting all 16 newly invented games in 2021,” in which case Atlanta’s ninth road game would be at Jacksonville.

The 2021 Preseason

If the league moves to a 17-game regular season, the preseason will be reduced to either two or three games. There will still be one bye week for each team, extending the regular season to 18 weeks, and Super Bowl will be moved back to the second week of February.

Per King, Super Bowl LVI will likely be moved to February 13, 2022 at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles. The game is currently scheduled to be played on February 6th.

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