Each NFL team will now play 17 regular season games and three preseason games for the first time, the first change to the season's structure since 1978. The move follows the league's record-breaking media rights deals announced earlier this month.
NFL chief Roger Goodell has said he expects stadiums to operate at full capacity next season as the league confirmed plans for an expanded 17-game schedule.
Speaking on a conference call during the NFL's owners meeting, Goodell said the league wanted fans back following a 2020 campaign in which stadiums were often empty due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
"We are also discussing our plans to welcome back all of our fans for the 2021 season across the country at all NFL stadiums," Goodell said.
"All of us in the NFL want to see every one of our fans back. Football is simply not the same without fans, and we expect to have full stadiums in the upcoming season."
Spectator policies varied across the league's 32-clubs last year, with some shutting out fans altogether while others operated at a reduced capacity.
Goodell's comments came as the NFL confirmed that the regular season will be expanded to include 17 games from 2021.
The much-anticipated move follows the league's record-breaking media rights deals announced earlier this month.
Each NFL team will now play 17 regular season games and three preseason games for the first time, the first change to the season's structure since 1978.
A 17-game season had been on the cards since the 2020 collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and the NFL Players Association.
On March 18, the NFL announced a raft of media rights deals expected to generate more than $100 billion over the next 11 seasons, which included an agreement with Amazon Prime Video for rights to Thursday night games.
"This is a monumental moment in NFL history," Goodell said. "The CBA with the players and the recently completed media agreements provide the foundation for us to enhance the quality of the NFL experience for our fans.
"And one of the benefits of each team playing 17 regular-season games is the ability for us to continue to grow our game around the world."
The 17th game will see teams from opposing conferences playing the team that finished in the same place from the corresponding division in 2021, with AFC teams being the home team for the new seasons.
For example, the Buffalo Bills, who finished top of the AFC East last season, will take on the Washington Football Team, winners of the NFC East, in their 17th game in 2021.
NFL clubs will host 10 games per season overall -- either nine regular season games and one preseason game, or eight regular season games and two preseason games.
Each team will play divisional rivals home and away and four teams from another division within its conference on a rotating three-year cycle.
Although some players have been critical of the move, questioning the physical toll that an extra regular season game may take, Goodell insisted the league had taken safety considerations into account.
"What we are actually doing is following the data and following the science to make sure that we are doing things well both from a health and safety standpoint as well as seeking to get better in every way," Goodell said.