NFL’s 17-game season: Ranking best new matchups and explaining new scheduling formula

One of the consequences of the NFL's newly confirmed expansion of the regular season to 17 games per team is an alteration to the league's scheduling matrix – one that essentially lays out every club's future opponents in perpetuity.

To wit, every team plays its divisional opponents twice annually (home and away), while pairing off against all four teams from another division within the conference with another four games coming against a division outside the conference – those matchups set on a rotating basis. The final two games from the previous 16-game schedule were of the intraconference variety: For example, if the Denver Broncos finished in second place the previous season and were playing all of the AFC South teams in the subsequent season, then they would also draw the second-place clubs from the AFC East and AFC North to round out their lineup of opponents.

The new scheduling formula will basically incorporate several of those variables moving forward. Every team will now play an extra non-conference game as part of the 17-game equation, one that will be partially determined by a team's finish the previous season: For example, the New Orleans Saints face the AFC South every four years, last doing so in 2019 with the next full round of matchups occurring in 2023 – but the new wrinkle comes at the midway point of that cycle, when they face the one AFC South team that placed in the same spot in the standings in the previous year. 

That means the Saints, NFC South kings once again in 2020, will face the defending AFC South champion Tennessee Titans in 2021. The Super Bowl 55 champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who finished second in their division last year, will face the second-place Indianapolis Colts. Etc., etc.

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