We won’t know the official San Francisco 49ers schedule until the second or third week of April. According to Peter King in his recent Football Morning in America, the NFL is “highly likely” to add a 17th game to the 2021 regular-season schedule.
We had an idea that a 17th game was on the way after the players approved a collective bargaining deal in 2020 that included an option for a 17-game schedule beginning in 2021. The news here is that King gave insight into how the league plans to configure the extra game for each team:
“A note about how the league configured the extra game: When the NFL was choosing options, the formula that prevailed—follow me now—was AFC versus NFC, cross-conference matchup from two years ago, 2021 matchup based on 2020 standings. Now that you’re totally confused, here’s an example: The four AFC West teams played the four NFC North teams in 2019. In 2020, Kansas City finished in first place in the AFC West, Green Bay first in the NFC North. So in 2021, it’s AFC West against NFC North, and 1-versus-1 from ‘20 becomes Green Bay versus Kansas City. I will bet you a Kroll’s West cheeseburger with an ice-cold Spotted Cow that the networks will brawl over this ratings-gold game. This game alone is reason enough for the league to rush the 17th game onto the 2021 schedule.”
If King’s report is correct, the 49ers will play the Cincinnati Bengals.
So, the AFC and NFC will play each other for an extra game each year, moving forward starting in 2021. The divisions that played each other during the 2019 season would play each other again starting this year. The matchups are based on the final standing from the most recent season.
In 2019, the NFC West played the AFC North. Since the 49ers finished in last place in 2020, they’ll play the AFC North's last-place team, which is the Bengals. The other matchups between the two divisions include the Cardinals versus the Browns, the Ravens versus the Rams, and the Steelers versus the Seahawks. King added that the AFC would host each ‘new’ game this upcoming season while the NFC would do the same in 2022.
The final nugget King added was that there wouldn’t be an extra bye week, and the league calendar would be pushed back one week. So, 17 games in 18 weekends. Yay, player safety!