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Owners vote to expand NFL season to 17 games

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During virtual league meetings Tuesday, NFL owners voted to expand the regular-season schedule from 16 to 17 games beginning this year.

The provision to do so as early as 2021 was included in the NFL-NFLPA Collective Bargaining Agreement that was ratified before the 2020 season. The agreement also reduces the number of preseason games from four to three.

This marks the first time the NFL schedule has changed since 1978, when it increased from 14 to 16 games. All NFL teams played 12 regular-season contests from 1947-60 and 14 games from 1961-77.

"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."

Every club will play its 17th game against a team from the other conference that finished in the same place in the standings the previous year, with the divisions rotating every season. In 2021, the NFC North will match up with the AFC West, meaning the Bears will visit the Las Vegas Raiders.

All AFC teams will host their NFC counterparts in odd-numbered years, while NFC clubs will host their AFC opponents in even years.

In addition to facing the Raiders, the Bears in 2021 are slated to play home and away games against the Packers, Lions and Vikings; host the Cardinals, 49ers, Ravens, Bengals and Giants; and visit the Seahawks, Rams, Browns, Steelers and Buccaneers.

The complete regular-season schedule is expected to be released in mid-May.

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.

The official 2021 schedule, with playing dates and times, will be announced later this spring on NFL Network and NFL.com.

NFL Kickoff Weekend will begin Thursday night, Sept. 9, and the regular season will end Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022. The 2022 Pro Bowl will be played on Sunday, Feb. 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.

The enhanced season will ensure that beginning in 2022, all 32 clubs 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. In addition, interested clubs can continue to volunteer to play home games internationally, as is currently the case.

With the NFL expanding the regular-season schedule to 17 games, take a look at the Bears' finalized home and away matchups for the 2021 season.

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