NFL Rumors: 2020 Will Feature 7 Playoff Teams Per Conference, 17-Game Schedule Projected For 2021, Report Says

The new collective bargaining agreement appears ready to bring a major overhaul to the NFL season, while also making the preseason shorter.

Patriots and Titans players compete.
Adam Glanzman / Getty Images

The new collective bargaining agreement appears ready to bring a major overhaul to the NFL season, while also making the preseason shorter.

About two weeks after Super Bowl LIV, the National Football League appears poised to give itself a major facelift, not only adding a game to the schedule but creating a wild-card playoff weekend that would be a bonanza for football fans, with six games rather than four. This was claimed in a report by ESPN senior writer Adam Schefter that was published on Wednesday.

The changes would be part of a new collective bargaining agreement between NFL owners and the league’s Players Association, the union that represents more than 2,000 professional football players.

If the new CBA is ratified, the playoff changes would take effect in the 2020 season, adding one playoff team to each conference for a total of seven. The change would also mean that only one team per conference — the team with the best record — would receive a first-round bye. The new system, with three wild-card teams per conference rather than two, would mean a wild-card weekend with three games each on Saturday and Sunday.

If the system were in effect in the 2019 season, the then-defending NFC champion Los Angeles Rams would have qualified for the playoffs, according to a New York Post report. In the AFC, the Pittsburgh Steelers would have also qualified for the postseason.

Adam Schefter speaks on the phone.
ESPN reporter Adam Schefter. Jeff Schear / Getty Images

The expanded playoffs have been “agreed to for a long time,” according to one NFL source quoted by Schefter. “There wasn’t a lot of disagreement to that issue.”

The other phase of the NFL’s rumored facelift — expanding the season from 16 games to 17 — remains more contentious, however. According to Schefter’s report, the player’s union has not yet agreed to add the extra contest. Even if the NFLPA does finally sign off on the longer season, the 17-game schedule would not take effect until the 2021 campaign, and would also shorten the preseason from four games to three per team.

The Canadian Football League plays an 18-game season, but with only two rounds of playoffs involving three teams per conference prior to the championship game, which is known as the Grey Cup.

According to the Schefter report, there is now “mounting optimism” that the new CBA will be finalized within the next week.

The proposed deal would also change the NFL’s financial structure. Under the current agreement, players receive 47 percent of the league’s revenue. That share would tick up to 48 percent through a 16-game schedule, and 48.5 percent if the schedule does indeed expand to 17 games. Though the increase appears small on paper, it would shift $5 billion from owners to the players, as noted by Schefter.