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Understanding the formula that determines the Broncos 17th game opponent

The calculations are complete and clearly the Broncos are playing the Detroit Lions at Mile High... Why?

Detroit Lions v Denver Broncos Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

After years of floating the idea of adding games to the regular season, last week the NFL finally followed through and made the addition of 17th game a reality.

While I am not at all sad to see the demise of a useless preseason game, the OCD side of me that has so enjoyed the predictability of the Broncos schedule is taking this news had me less excited. Every year, the Broncos play an NFC division, AFC division, two divisional games against other AFC West teams, and then two AFC games based on the previous year’s record. Perfection.

So what formula picked the Detroit Lions as Denver’s clear 17th opponent in 2021?

This NFL.com article endeavored to explain.

New scheduling procedures with respect to the 17th regular-season game will “be an interconference match-up based on divisional standings” from the previous campaign, and “on a rotating divisional basis” in a fashion similar to current scheduling standards that annually see one AFC division play an entire NFC division, and so on. This change should mean the football-viewing world will see more marquee matchups across conferences that would traditionally be limited by the annual interconference divisional rotations.

So there is indeed a formula that fans can learn, but what does it really mean? This tweet does a terrific job of explaining (the little boxed in area below the schedule).

So here is the easiest way to figure that pesky 17th matchup.

  1. Where did the Broncos finish in the previous season (2020)? 4th Place.
  2. What NFC division did the Broncos play the year before that (2019)? NFC North.
  3. What team in that division finished in the same position as Denver? The Detroit Lions (4th Place).
  4. Who is the home conference for this game in 2021? Hunh?

In this first year of the expanded schedule, the AFC has been determined the home conference and so nobody in the NFC will host a 17th game until next year, at which point they all will. If you reference the tweet above, you’ll see that all the NFC teams are playing at AFC locations. Next year it will be reversed... and thus the rotation for determining home and away teams for this expanded 17th game is born.

Okay, let’s face it. It’s kind of complicated. However, nothing about football isn’t. Yes, you will have to keep track of the schedule from two years ago and remember who is the home and away conference going forward, but it’s a small price to pay to have an exciting cross-conference matchup... Down the line, when the Broncos are better than last place. Until then, get pumped about playing the Detroit Lions.

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