2021 NFL Schedule Release: 4 Key Factors, Including 17th Game & Bye Weeks
Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images. Pictured: Quarterback Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers passes
The 2021-2022 NFL schedule is set to drop on Wednesday, May 12. While the opponents have been known for a while, this will be the first chance to know exactly when and where every game will take place.
After seeing many empty stadiums during last season, the schedule release may be an opportunity to plan a tailgate or road trip for many, but for bettors it’s a good time to start focusing on win totals and futures that may have value.
Here are the key factors to look for when the schedule drops on Wednesday.
4 NFL Schedule Release Factors
1. 17-Game Schedule
If you haven’t been paying close attention this offseason, you may have missed that the NFL increased the number of games to 17. This year, the teams in the AFC will play nine home games and eight away games and vice versa for the NFC teams.
While this may seem unbalanced, there is no home-field advantage to be gained in the Super Bowl, so best overall record has no meaning between conferences.
The area where it may make a difference is parity within divisions. Division winners from last year will have to play each other, which could help some teams that finished lower in the standings.
As an example, the Packers 17th game is a trip to Kansas City, while in the same division the Bears go on the road to play the Raiders. That is a clear advantage for Chicago.
2. Bye Weeks
There was some speculation that the NFL would add an additional bye along with the extra game, but for now it is sticking with one bye week per team.
For bye weeks, it’s less about the “when” and more about the “who.” There isn’t really advantage to having your bye week early in the season vs. late as far as we can tell.
Teams coming off of a bye facing teams on a regular week of rest have seen an increase of 3%-5% in win probability compared to playing teams with the same amount of rest.
Home teams overall have won 57.2% in our Bet Labs database, while home teams with the bye advantage have won 60.9% of games. That may not seem like a huge jump, but if you can get those extra percentage points against a key opponent, it can increase your odds at a better seed in the playoffs.
You can also have multiple opponents play your team after its bye. With all of the scheduling quirks, it is bound to happen to some teams. When the schedule is released, you hope for your favorite team to see as few as possible.
3. Thursday Night Football Games
Every team is going to play one game on short rest. Home teams have gained approximately 2% in win probability in Thursday games compared to the normal week on a Sunday or Monday.
Last season was the first season in which home teams on short rest had a losing season. Many of those games were moved around and played in front of smaller or no crowds so I would expect that result to be the exception to the norm.
4. Early-Season Schedule
On paper, every team is going to have what looks to be tough stretches. This will have no impact on win probability but could be an opportunity to wait and buy low on futures if you like a team overall, but think it could get off to a rough start.
A prime example from last year is the Houston Texans, who started the season like this:
- Week 1: at Kansas City
- Week 2: vs. Baltimore
- Week 3: at Pittsburgh
Starting the season facing three of the toughest teams in the AFC with two on the road was not an easy stretch. Surely enough the Texans lost all three games.
If you liked the Texans overall before the season, you could stand pat and get a better price on futures simply by waiting.