In addition to moving to expand the regular season to a 17-game schedule, the owners also somewhat more quietly installed another change to how the scheduling will work going forward. It won’t have nearly the same impact, however, and will also not come into effect until 2022.
Beginning next year, the NFL will play at least four international games every season. And each team will be required to play an international game at least once every eight years, as a host. Each year, the conference that is scheduled to host an odd number of games will feature four of those teams hosting an international game.
The last time that the Pittsburgh Steelers played an international game was in 2013 when they were ‘hosted’ by the Minnesota Vikings at Wembley Stadium in London. Albeit a losing effort, 34-27, it marked the NFL debut of then-rookie running back Le’Veon Bell, who rushed for two touchdowns and totaled 84 yards from scrimmage.
To date, 31 of the league’s 32 teams have played at least one international game, with the only exception being the Green Bay Packers. Under these new changes, they will be required to play at least once over the course of the next eight years.
Currently, the only confirmed host countries for the immediate future at the United Kingdom and Mexico, but Germany and Canada are also potential candidates, and about countries have hosted NFL games previously.
The Steelers have a strong fan base in Mexico, and president Art Rooney II has spoken on multiple occasions about his and the organization’s desire to play in front of their international fans again south of the border.
Each of the international games will take place between interconference opponents, according to reports, in conjunction with the addition of the 17th regular season game that is scheduled to take place against non-conference opponents.
The AFC is hosting the 17th games in 2021, and they will alternate every year, so the earliest that the Steelers could ‘host’ an international game is in 2023. They could, however, potentially be lined up to play internationally next season as a visiting team, as they were in 2013.
While teams will be required to participate in this program on a rotating basis, they are also permitted to volunteer. The Jacksonville Jaguars have had an agreement to play in London every year. They were scheduled to play twice there in 2020 before the pandemic soured those plans.
I know that we have some Mexican fans here. I’m sure that whenever the Steelers are given their slate to play an international game, the NFL will do the smart thing and send them to Mexico, where we know you guys have been hungry to see for some time, so this should be welcome news.