The NFL made official Tuesday what had been long been suspected when owners voted to add a 17th regular season game.
Also expected was the setup for the additional game, which means the New England Patriots indeed will face the Dallas Cowboys at Gillette Stadium along with their other already determined matchups.
The Patriots' home schedule in 2021 also features games against Buffalo, Miami, the New York Jets, Cleveland, Jacksonville, New Orleans, Tampa Bay and Tennessee.
In addition to the three AFC East opponents, the Patriots will play road games against Atlanta, Carolina, Houston, Indianapolis and the Los Angeles Chargers.
The addition of a 17th regular season game will mean a reduction in the preseason from four to three games for every team except those playing in the annual Hall of Fame Game.
The scheduling formula moving forward will remain the same as it's been:
-- The four teams from another division within its conference on a rotating three-year cycle (four games).
-- The four teams from a division in the other conference on a rotating four-year cycle (four games).
-- Two intraconference games based on the prior year’s standings (two games). These games match a first-place team against the first-place teams in the two same-conference divisions the team is not scheduled to play that season. The second-place, third-place and fourth-place teams in a conference are matched in the same way each year.
-- One interconference game based on the prior year’s standings on a rotating four-year cycle (one game). These games match a first-place team from one division against a first-place team in an opposite conference division that the team is not scheduled to play that season. The second-place, third-place and fourth-place teams in each division are matched in the same way each year. The home conference for this game will rotate each season.
Also of note in the NFL announcement Tuesday, all 32 clubs will play internationally at least once every eight years. The scheduling of up to four neutral-site games per year in a country outside the United States will focus initially on Canada, Europe, Mexico, South America and the United Kingdom. In addition, interested clubs can continue to volunteer to play home games internationally.
The officially move to 17 games was considered a foregone conclusion once owners were given the ability to do it in the 2020 Collective Bargaining Agreement between owners and the NFL Players Association.
It will be the first time since 1978, when the regular season schedule increased from 14 to 16 games, that there's been a change in the schedule.