NFL owners decided to expand the regular season to 17 games Tuesday, in a widely expected decision that could have repercussions for both player health and the league's record books.
The Vikings' added game will be against the Chargers in Los Angeles, meaning the Vikings have eight home games and nine road games. It will be their second trip to L.A. to face the Chargers in three years, and their first trip to SoFi Stadium (the site of Super Bowl LVI).
Commissioner Roger Goodell, when asked on a conference call about player safety, said cutting to three preseason games means teams still play 20 games; he added there are more injuries in preseason games than in regular-season games.
The addition of one game — they will all be NFC vs. AFC — is the first since the NFL went from 14 games to 16 for the 1977 season. The regular season starts Sept. 9 and ends Jan. 9, and the Super Bowl will be played Feb. 13 in Los Angeles.
After a season in which teams played to less than 10% capacity because of COVID-19 concerns, Goodell said, "We want to see every one of our fans back. We expect to have full stadiums in the coming season."
The league expanded from 12 to 14 playoff teams last season.
The NFL Players Association agreed to a 17-game season as soon as 2021 as part of the 2020 collective bargaining agreement. Teams will still have a bye week; the league schedule comes out in late April. The CBA expires in 2031, and there is a stipulation that the schedule cannot be expanded to 18 games.
Conferences will alternate the lopsided schedule by year; AFC teams will have nine home games in 2021 and NFC teams will have nine home games in 2022, and so on.
The league also plans to move four of the 16 new interconference matchups to international sites, though the Chargers gave up home games in 2018 and 2019 to play in London and Mexico City, respectively, and it's unlikely their game against the Vikings will be away from Los Angeles.
Each NFL team will play such a game in the next eight years, however.
The league made its new regular-season game a nonconference contest, to be determined by a formula similar to the one the league had used to finalize each team's 15th and 16th regular-season games under the previous format.
According to the formula the NFL had used since 2002, each team had played the following games:
• Six games (three home, three away) against three division opponents (for the Vikings: two games against the Bears, Lions and Packers each year).
• Four games (two home, two away) against an entire division in its own conference (the Vikings play the entire NFC West in 2021, traveling to Arizona and San Francisco while playing host to Los Angeles and Seattle).
• Four games (two home, two away) against an entire division in the opposite conference (the Vikings play the entire AFC North in 2021, traveling to Baltimore and Cincinnati while playing host to Cleveland and Pittsburgh).
• Two games (one home, one away) against the other two divisions in its own conference, determined by which teams finished in the same place in the division the previous year (since the Vikings are already playing the entire NFC West this year and finished third in the NFC North last year, they'll play the third-place finishers in the NFC East and NFC South — at home against Dallas and on the road against Carolina).
The 17th game, then, means the Vikings will play an AFC team that finished in the same spot in a division other than the one they are already facing. The league started with the NFC North traveling to face the AFC West, meaning that division's third-place finisher (the Chargers) are on the Vikings' 2021 schedule.
Next season, they are scheduled to play the entire AFC East, so their ninth home game will come against a team from one of the other three divisions (the West, North or South). Given the fact the Vikings are facing the AFC West this year, it stands to reason they would begin a rotation that would have them playing a home game vs. a team from the AFC North or South in 2022.