On September 9, 2021, the NFL kicked off its 102nd season with a game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Each spring the team owners gather to discuss numerous aspects on the upcoming season including any rule tweaks, changes, or additions. This year there were six rule changes in the way the game will be played.
One rule the fans have already noted, the elimination of overtime play in the pre-season. In 2021 season, the regular season is expanded to 17 games. As a result, the NFL has shortened the pre-season by one game to only three with a week between it and the regular season.
In recent years the NFL has made a number of changes in the game designed to cut down on injuries; especially when it comes to kick offs. This year the NFL is limiting the number of players allowed in the “setup zone” – the 10 to 25 yards from the spot of a kickoff. No more than nine players from the return team will be allowed in the setup zone for an onside kick attempt. The rule is designed to give the kicking team a better opportunity at recovering the ball.
The next rule change relates to the replay officials. The NFL has added a neutral replay official to aid in replay calls. With the rule change, the replay official may use technology to aid in determining the outcome of a protested call. In event of a disagreement in the outcome between the replay official and the on field official, the ruling of the on field official will take precedence.
In a clarification, accepted penalties on a point after or two point conversion cannot change the spot of the ball when both teams are involved in the infractions. The ruling stems from a 2019 game between the Chicago Bears and Denver Broncos where a ball of spotted wrongfully after penalties were assessed.
In an amendment to the rule relating to penalties that result in a loss of down, trick plays that include two forward passes from behind the line of scrimmage or a quarterback crossing the line of scrimmage before returning behind the line to throw a pass downfield. The penalty will now be five yards plus a loss of down.
For years, the NFL has had a certain set of numbers for players in specific positions. Formerly only quarterbacks, kickers, and punters were permitted to wear single digit jersey numbers; the expansion now allows offensive skill position players, linebackers and defensive backs to wear any number up to 49 including single digit numbers.
This season officials will be putting an emphasis on the taunting rule. Players charged with taunting will be ejected from the game but will not face any further punishment.
After the return of football in 2020, players faced strict rules in regard to social distancing and face coverings. This season with vaccines available, the NFL is mandating players and team members be fully vaccinated or face weekly Covid testing.
Last season the NFL was flexible when it came to moving games around after an outbreak of the virus among teams; this season, any team who cannot make a game due to an outbreak will have to forfeit the game. Games will not be rescheduled due to a Covid-19 outbreak.