Money rules in the NFL, which means the 2021 season will feature a 17th game in the calendar. For 42 years, the NFL regular season consisted of 16 games per team. But with labor peace and new TV deals secured, the league is now ready to add more games. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the schedule change is now official.

So who will the Dallas Cowboys be playing in 2021 and how will the 17th game work?

The Cowboys are set to face the New England Patriots in 2021 as their so-called 17th game. You can imagine the ratings this game will draw for the league.

As you may know, under the 16-game schedule, each team faced only one division from the other conference per year. This means that cross-conference matchups happened only once every four years. This will change thanks to the 17th game, which will always be a cross-conference matchup.

In fact, here’s basically how it works, as Peter King explained in his Football Morning in America column:

  1. Teams will face a team from the cross-conference matchups from two years ago. For example, the Cowboys played the AFC East in 2019. Hence, they’ll be facing an AFC East team. But which?
  2. Games will be determined according to last season’s standings. The Cowboys finished the 2020 season in third place of the NFC East. The Patriots also finished in third place of the AFC East.
  3. AFC and NFC will alternate hosting duties each year. The AFC will enjoy the home-field advantage in 2021.

It might sound confusing at first, but this formula will provide a lot of entertaining matchups that would usually not take place. Take 2021 for example. Cowboys at Patriots. Saints at Titans. Buccaneers at Colts. Packers at Chiefs!

Players like Cowboys’ QB Dak Prescott will face other great quarterbacks from the other conference more often, making room for better QB rivalries. Tom Brady only faced Drew Brees five times in his career before joining the Buccaneers in 2020 (three of those with Brees as a Saint). Under the new schedule, cross-conference rivalries will have more opportunities to take place.

Of course, not everything is good. Even though the NFL continues to say they’re concerned about players’ safety, their actions might not reflect it. Last year, they expanded the playoffs and now it’s the regular season as well. As fans, it’s easy to be excited about more football. After all, it’s more football! But some players aren’t going to be thrilled about playing more. And it’s hard to blame them.

Featured Image Via Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
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