CLEVELAND, Ohio — Are you ready for more football?
NFL owners voted to approve expansion of the regular season from 16 games to 17 beginning with the 2021 season during the virtual Annual Meeting on Tuesday, while reducing the number of preseason games from four to three.
The 17th games of the season are interconference matchups based on divisional standings, with the AFC getting the extra home this year, and the NFC getting it next year. This season, the AFC North faces the NFC West, meaning the third-place Browns will host the third-place Cardinals, who finished 8-8 in 2020 and missed the playoffs.
The extra game can land anywhere on the schedule.
The Cardinals this year feature three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt, whom the Browns pursued in free agency before he opted to sign a two-year deal worth $28 million with Arizona, including a $12 million signing bonus.
It also means a rematch between Baker Mayfield and his Oklahoma successor Kyler Murray, who beat the Browns 38-24 as a rookie on Dec. 15, 2019. Murray also followed Mayfield as the Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 overall pick.
This marks the first expansion of the regular season in 43 years, since it increased from 14 to 16 games in 1978. It won’t increase again during the current CBA, which runs through 2031.
“This is a monumental moment in NFL history,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a release. “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.”
Under the new formula, 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.
The 2021 NFL schedule will be announced later this spring on NFL Network and NFL.com.
The NFL season will kick off Thursday night, Sept. 9, and the regular season will end Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022. The 2022 Pro Bowl will be played on Sunday, February 6 at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas and the season will conclude with Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles on Sunday, Feb. 13, 2022.
In addition, the expanded schedule ensures that all 32 teams will play internationally at least once every eight years beginning in 2022.
The league will schedule up to four neutral-site games per year in a country outside the United States, with the initial focus on Canada, Europe, Mexico, South America and the United Kingdom. As is currently the case, interested clubs can continue to volunteer to play home games internationally.
In other league news, the NFL informed clubs they can begin Phase 1 of Organized Team Activities on April 19, according to NFL Media’s Tom Pelissero. Players are currently permitted to work out at team facilities in small groups and many have been doing so.
As for the rest of the offseason, the NFL and NFLPA are still working through in-person workouts and meetings vs. virtual ones.
Here are the Browns’ home and away opponents for 2021:
Home: Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Pittsburgh Steelers, Arizona Cardinals, Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions, Houston Texans, Las Vegas Raiders.
Away: Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Pittsburgh Steelers, Green Bay Packers, Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Chargers, Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots.
Here are all of the 17th game matchups:
NFC East vs. AFC East
1. Washington Football Team at Buffalo Bills
2. New York Giants at Miami Dolphins
3. Dallas Cowboys at New England Patriots
4. Philadelphia Eagles at New York Jets
NFC West vs. AFC North
1. Seattle Seahawks at Pittsburgh Steelers
2. Los Angeles Rams at Baltimore Ravens
3. Arizona Cardinals at Cleveland Browns
4. San Francisco 49ers at Cincinnati Bengals
NFC South vs. AFC South
1. New Orleans Saints at Tennessee Titans
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Indianapolis Colts
3. Carolina Panthers at Houston Texans
4. Atlanta Falcons at Jacksonville Jaguars
NFC North vs. AFC West
1. Green Bay Packers at Kansas City Chiefs
2. Chicago Bears at Las Vegas Raiders
3. Minnesota Vikings at Los Angeles Chargers
4. Detroit Lions at Denver Broncos
Browns playoffs shirts, hats for sale: Here’s where Cleveland Browns fans can order shirts and hats celebrating the team qualifying for the 2020 NFL playoffs.
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