SEATTLE – With the draft in the past, free agency largely over and rosters mostly complete, there’s one big NFL offseason event remaining – the setting of each team’s 2021 regular-season schedule.
That will happen Wednesday when the league releases the full schedule at 5 p.m. (though reports Tuesday stated teams will release their own schedules beginning at 4:45 p.m.).
How big of a deal has the unveiling of the schedule become? Well, like everything with the NFL these days, pretty darn big.
The NFL Network will devote three hours to it with a show called “Schedule Release ’21” that begins at 5, while ESPN2 will counter with a two-hour “SportsCenter” special.
Maybe that seems like overkill. But then did you watch the draft? (Though there’s no truth to the rumor that Kings of Leon has since changed its name to Kings of Leon Lett.)
And given what we’ve all been through the past year, if the NFL wants to take three hours to unveil its schedule, so be it.
So to prepare you for the onslaught of the schedule release, here’s what you need to know.
NFL teams will play 17 games in 2021: Earlier this year, the league approved adding a 17th regular-season game, in the process subtracting one preseason game – NFL teams played 16 games from 1978 through last season.
The 17 games will be spread out over 18 weeks, so yes, just one bye week for players. There will also be a week break between the third, and now final, preseason game and the first regular-season game.
The regular season will kick off on Sept. 9, with a game expected to feature the defending champion Tampa Bay Bucs (with every other team then playing games that weekend). The regular season will end on Jan. 9. The season will conclude with Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles on Feb. 13.
It was revealed Tuesday that the NFL plans to announce the Week 1 matchups Wednesday morning via the various networks with which it has deals (FOX, CBS, ABC).
That the Mariners play at home on Sept. 12 (against Arizona) and Sept. 13 (against the Red Sox) likely means the Seahawks will open on the road. But the Mariners are on the road the following two weekends, meaning the Seahawks could open at home in Week 2 and be at home in both of Weeks 2 and 3.
A report Tuesday stated the Bears will play at the Rams on the first Monday night of the season.
If so, then that would eliminate Seattle playing on Monday to open the season since there will reportedly be only one Monday game on opening weekend this year.
And if you’re really looking forward to football, the first preseason game will be Aug. 5 when Dallas and Pittsburgh play in the Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio.
The Seahawks will play nine road games in 2021: It might be worth a reminder that every team’s opponents are already determined. What happens Wednesday is the setting of dates, times and TV designations.
Seattle, like every NFC team, will play eight home games and nine road games this year to account for adding a 17th game. That will be flipped in 2022 when AFC teams will get the extra road game.
Teams that play eight home games also get an extra home preseason game, meaning in every year, teams are still playing 10 home games and 10 road games, which is important in terms of a team’s travel miles. In years with nine home regular-season games, season-ticket holders will get one extra regular-season game for their money and one fewer preseason game.
Opponents are determined through a formula that has been in place since divisions were realigned in 2002.
Here’s how each team’s schedule works:
- Six games against division opponents, home and road
- Four games, two home and two road, against a division in its conference (which this year for the NFC West is the NFC North)
- Four games, two home and two road, against a division in another conference (which this year for the Seahawks is the AFC South)
- Two games against teams from the two other divisions in its conference based on division placing from the previous year, one home and one road (which for Seattle this year are the Saints and Washington)
• A 17th game against a team from the other conference. Each NFC West team this year will play a road game against a team from the AFC North based on division standings last season, which is how the Seahawks get an extra road game this year against the Steelers.
So for Seattle that means home games against eight teams: the Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers, Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Jacksonville Jaguars, New Orleans Saints and Tennessee Titans.
And for Seattle that means road games against nine teams: the Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers, Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Minnesota Vikings, Pittsburgh Steelers and Washington Football Team.
Preseason games will also be announced Wednesday.
The NFL plans to play internationally again in 2021, but Seahawks won’t: The NFL had to scrap its international games in 2020 due to COVID-19. However, the league has said all along it hoped to play games internationally again, with speculation that games could be held in London and Mexico City.
On Tuesday, The Athletic reported that Atlanta and Jacksonville will serve as hosts for the two games the league plans to hold in London but that no games will be played in Mexico City due to continuing concerns over COVID-19 (it had been thought Arizona might host a game in Mexico City).
Since the Seahawks do not play Atlanta or Jacksonville on the road – as noted, Seattle will host the Jaguars – that rules out Seattle playing internationally in 2021.
However, beginning in 2022, every team will be required to serve as home team for an international game once every eight years on a rotating basis – four NFC teams in 2022, four AFC teams in 2023, etc. So, the Seahawks are assured of playing somewhere on foreign soil at some point over the next eight years.
Seattle has played internationally just once, a win over the Raiders in London in 2018.
And the big question – How many prime-time games will Seahawks get?: The advent of a 17th game also means teams can now be initially scheduled for as many as six prime-time games, with the possibility of being flexed into a seventh. Previously, teams could initially be scheduled for five and flexed into a sixth.
Seattle has played five prime-time games each of the past three years, though last year Seattle was initially scheduled for four and then had another added via flex (a home game against Arizona).
Seattle has played at least four prime-time games every year since 2012, which Seahawks fans like not only because it’s a sign of the league viewing Seattle as a marquee team but also because of the Seahawks’ success in them: Seattle is 33-8-1 in prime-time games since Pete Carroll arrived in 2010.
So what games will Seattle get in prime time? Division games are always popular. In every year but two since 2012, Seattle has had at least two NFC West games in prime time. That would seem likely again this year with how competitive all of the NFC West teams project to be in 2021.
Also seeming like good bets are the trip to Green Bay (Seattle has played the Packers four times in prime time since 2012); a visit from the Jaguars and Trevor Lawrence (and Tim Tebow); the trip to Pittsburgh (though do we really have to relive Super Bowl XL again?); and the home game against Chicago (all the chances to rehash those Russell Wilson trade rumors while also setting up a delicious QB matchup of Wilson and Justin Fields).
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