Falcons Explained: The NFL Schedule

272. That's how many regular-season NFL games will be played from September 2021 until January 2022. The Falcons will feature in 17 of those games. Here is a look at how those 272 games come together and a breakdown of how the Falcons 17 games are determined.

Beginning in 2021, the Falcons will play an additional regular-season game as the NFL has expanded the schedule for the first time since moving from 14 games to 16 prior to the 1978 season. Team owners approved the change during the Annual League Meeting in March, which took place virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 17th game was foreshadowed by the NFL-NFLPA Collective Bargaining Agreement signed in March of 2020. The updated CBA enabled the NFL to expand the season to 17 games with union and player approval. The adjustment keeps the number of regular and preseason games to 20, as the preseason has now been shortened to three games.

"This is a monumental moment in NFL history," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. "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."

The Falcons 17th game will feature an additional AFC opponent each season based on the prior year's standings, starting with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2021. The home and road teams will be determined by a conference rotation each year – AFC home in 2021, NFC home in 2022 – which means Atlanta will play in Jacksonville this season and will host an additional game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in 2022. Point of clarification, the 17th game isn't necessarily the final game of the season.

SCHEDULE FORMULA

Each team's games are determined by a consistent formula that includes division games, rotating intra-and-interconference games, as well as intra-and-interconference games based on standings.

Falcons 2021 Schedule

  • 6 games – NFC South
  • 4 games – NFC East
  • 4 games – AFC East
  • 1 game - NFC North 4th place team (Lions)
  • 1 game – NFC West 4th place team (49ers)
  • 1 game – AFC South 4th place team (Jaguars)

Apart from the six NFC South games, the opponents change from year to year. Those changes are either by rotation, in the case of the other two divisions the Falcons will play, or they're determined by standings. For example, in 2022 the Falcons will play the NFC West and AFC North and will face the teams with the same division standing in the NFC North and NFC East.

The 17th game will match the Falcons with a team from an AFC division that finished in the same place in the standings that they are not already scheduled to play. It sounds more convoluted than it is.

Looking ahead, each team will play internationally at least once every eight years starting in 2022. The NFL will schedule up to four neutral-site games per year in a country outside the United States. The focus will initially be on Canada, Europe, Mexico, South America, and the United Kingdom.

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MARK YOUR CALENDARS

  • NFL Kickoff Weekend: Thursday, September 9, 2021
  • Regular Season Finale: Sunday, January 9, 2022
  • The 2022 Pro Bowl: Sunday, February 6 (Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas)
  • Super Bowl LVI: Sunday, February 13, 2022 (SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles)

The Falcons will look to bounce back from a difficult 4-12 season when they kick off the 2021 season in September. Despite the team's struggles last year, there is precedent for teams to turn things around in a hurry in the NFL.

According to NFL Media Research, at least four teams have qualified for the playoffs that were not in the postseason the year for 31 consecutive seasons. At least two teams have won their divisions the season after missing the playoffs in 17 of the last 18 seasons, including the Falcons in 2010 and 2016. There has also been at least one team to go from "worst-to-first", winning its division the season after finishing in last place in 16 of the last 18 seasons.

COACHING MATCHUPS 

There are seven new head coaches in the NFL in 2021, including Falcons HC Arthur Smith. Smith will lead the Falcons in four games against fellow rookie coaches.  

  • Dan Campbell | Detroit Lions 
  • Robert Saleh | New York Jets 
  • Nick Sirianni | Philadelphia Eagles 
  • Urban Meyer | Jacksonville Jaguars
Fans react to an Atlanta Falcons touchdown during the first half of the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, GA, on Sunday November 24, 2019. (Photo by Adam Hagy/Atlanta Falcons)

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