The National Football League has officially added a 17th game to the regular season and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2021 schedule now includes a road game against the Indianapolis Colts.
The new Collective Bargaining Agreement ratified by the NFL and the NFLPA last March included an option for the NFL to expand the regular season from 16 to 17 games. The NFL will exercise that option beginning in 2021 and will also shorten the preseason from four games to three. The resulting 20-game schedule will still include a single bye week.
The 17th game will be a fifth interconference matchup for each team. In addition to playing all four games against one of the divisions in the other conference, each team will also play a single contest against a team from another division that matched their place in the standings. Those interconference divisional matchups will operate on a four-year rotating basis.
The 2021 season will match the NFC South with the AFC South for that extra game, and the Buccaneers and Colts finished second in those respective divisions in 2020. Both teams made the playoffs and Tampa Bay eventually went the distance with a victory over Kansas City in Super Bowl LV.
To preserve home-and-away balance in a season with an odd number of games, the two conferences will alternate having all home games for the 17th contest. The AFC will have all of the home games in 2021, giving those teams nine regular-season contests at home. In 2022, all of the extra games will be home dates for the NFC teams, meaning the Buccaneers will have nine home regular-season games that year. All 32 teams will have 10 home dates each season, either nine regular-season and one preseason or eight regular-season and two preseason.
While the Buccaneers know their opponents for all 17 regular-season games in 2021, the dates and times are yet to be announced. In addition to the Colts, the Buccaneers will also have interconference games against all four AFC East teams.