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Baltimore Ravens

With NFL’s approval of 17th game, Ravens will host Rams in 2021; league expects ‘full stadiums’ for season

With the NFL approving a 17-game regular season for 2021, the Ravens have another Super Bowl contender on their schedule.

The league announced Tuesday after a virtual meeting of team owners that the Ravens will host the Los Angeles Rams in the first year of an expanded slate that also includes just three preseason games. It’s the first change to the NFL’s season structure since the 1978 campaign introduced an era of 16 regular-season and four preseason games.

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While reducing the preseason to three games the league will be able to generate additional revenue. America’s most popular sport also will provide more content for the broadcast partners who soon will be spending a total of about $10 billion a year on rights fees.

The NFL also is looking into having “full stadiums in the upcoming season,” commissioner Roger Goodell said.

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“This is a monumental moment in NFL history,” Goodell said in a release. “The [collective bargaining agreement] 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.”

Some players have voiced their unhappiness with the expanded regular season, but Goodell and other league executives point out that data accumulated over the past decade or so show more injuries occur in a preseason game than any other. Also as part of the labor agreement, the players now will receive 48.5% of shareable revenues with a 17th game, up from 47% last season.

In the NFL’s revised 2021 schedule, AFC North teams are matched with teams from the NFC West that finished in the same place within their division the previous season. With the AFC determined to be the home conference for the 17th game in 2021, the Pittsburgh Steelers will host the Seattle Seahawks, the Cleveland Browns will host the Arizona Cardinals, and the Cincinnati Bengals will host the San Francisco 49ers.

After trading for Matthew Stafford this offseason, the Rams are among the NFC’s top contenders entering the 2021 season. Led by All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald and All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey, they went 10-6 last year and advanced to the NFC’s divisional round in the playoffs. The Ravens dominated their last matchup, cruising to a 45-6 win in Los Angeles two years ago on “Monday Night Football.”

In addition to their six games next season against the AFC North — three at home and three away against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals — the Ravens will host the Green Bay Packers, Indianapolis Colts, Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Chargers, Minnesota Vikings and Rams.

They’ll face the Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions, Las Vegas Raiders and Miami Dolphins on the road. The NFL’s full schedule is expected to be released later this spring.

As for fans in the stands — 119 games, including the postseason, had some in-person attendance during the coronavirus-impacted 2020 season, with approximately 1.2 millions fans in total — Goodell sounded optimistic.

“We’re discussing plans to welcome back all fans across the country at all stadiums,” he said. “All of us want to see every one of our fans back. Football is not the same without fans, and we expect to have full stadiums in the upcoming season.”

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The full NFL schedule will be released in May, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will kick off the season on Thursday, Sept. 9. The regular season will end Jan. 9.

The Super Bowl, which will be played in Los Angeles at SoFi Stadium, will move back a week to Feb. 13, which places it directly in the middle of the Winter Olympics in Beijing. Coincidentally, NBC has the broadcast rights to both.

Last season, the league added two playoff teams to increase the number of postseason games. Now, it is adding 16 more matches, or “inventory,” as league executives often refer to it.

Beyond next season, the league plans for some of the extra games to be played at international sites, with regular hosts London and Mexico City possibly joined by other venues.

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Also of note:

>> The 32 franchises were told that organized team activities (OTAs) will begin April 19, with COVID-19 protocols in place. The early launch of OTAs afforded to teams with new head coaches has been waived this year.

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Specifics on other offseason programs, including minicamps and the opening of training camps, are being discussed by the league and union.

>> Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s medical director who oversaw the COVID-19 response and protocols that helped the league play every game last season, updated the teams. Goodell said Sills and his staff are dealing “primarily in the area of education and trying to make sure not to just educate players but all our personnel on the importance of vaccinations — the fact it does help protect you from getting COVID and spreading COVID.”

“We will be encouraging all personnel to get vaccinated and working with the players association on all these issues. ... We are also using our platforms publicly to talk about the importance of getting vaccinations.”

The NFL doesn’t plan to mandate vaccinations for players, coaches or staff members.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.


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