New 2021 playoff format features Monday night Round 1 game


The 2020 NFL season brought the first expansion of the playoff field in 30 years, from 12 teams to 14. The 2021 season expanded from 16 regular-season games to 17.

Now comes news of more growth: Another day of playoff football.

The league announced Friday morning that it is adding a Monday night game to the first-round docket. That means the Super Wild Card Weekend is now scheduled for Jan. 15-17, 2022 — two games on that Saturday, three more on Sunday and one on Monday night.

The NFL has not announced yet which broadcast partners will handle which games. CBS and NBC each will broadcast two games on the opening weekend, with Fox and ESPN/ABC receiving one game apiece. The Monday night broadcast network has “yet to be determined,” according to the NFL’s release.

Last season, the opening weekend featured two days of tripleheaders on Saturday and Sunday. Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were forced to go on the road in the opening round last year en route to a Super Bowl victory, but they played at the Washington Football Team on the first Saturday, followed by a Sunday contest in the divisional round.

The obvious first takeaway for the new format is that it means (at least) one fewer day of rest for the winner of the Monday night contest.

Will this be a detriment for that team? Perhaps if the winner plays the following Sunday in the next round, the effect will be minimal. But if the winning team is asked to turn around for a Saturday game in the divisional round, it could be a different story.

In the new playoff format, the only teams earning byes are the top respective seeds in both the AFC and NFC. We don’t yet know which seeds will face each other in the Monday game. Super Wild Card games in both conferences will pit the No. 2 seed against the No. 7 seed, the No. 3 seed hosts the No. 6 seed and the No. 4 seed hosts the fifth seed.

Will this be good for the NFL? It certainly doesn’t hurt the league’s exposure, adding another night of playoff football. But it will be interesting to see what effect there might be on the Monday night winner in the following round.

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