How is NFL Schedule Determined? Explaining the Complete Process

By Casey
7 Min Read

The process of making the NFL schedule is a meticulously crafted art form, blending intricate planning with a keen eye for balance and fairness. This article describes in detail the detailed process of NFL schedule creation, offering insights into the complexities and challenges faced by the league’s schedule makers.

The NFL Schedule Makers: The Unsung Heroes

At the heart of the NFL schedule-making process is a team of six executives, including the Senior Vice President of Broadcasting, Howard Katz, and Senior Director of Broadcasting, Blake Jones. This team shoulders the immense task of orchestrating a 272-game schedule that spans 18 weeks of the NFL season.

How NFL Schedules are Made? The Making Process

The Puzzle of 272 Games

Creating the NFL schedule is akin to assembling a 272-piece puzzle, where each piece represents a game involving one of the 32 teams across 18 weeks. The objective is to serve multiple TV partners while maximizing national interest in games from Thursday to Monday every fall weekend.

The Rotation System: Ensuring Every Team Plays Each Other

A fundamental component of schedule-making is the rotation system. This system guarantees that each team plays against every other team at least once in a four-year period. The league’s 32 teams are split into two conferences (AFC and NFC), each containing four divisions. The schedule includes:

  • Six games against divisional opponents (three home, three away).
  • Four games against another division within the conference.
  • Four games against a division from the opposite conference.
  • Two games against teams from the remaining divisions in its conference, based on the previous season’s standings.
  • One additional game against a non-conference opponent, also based on the previous season’s standings.

The Challenge of Balancing Bye Weeks and Travel

The schedule makers must also keep in mind the complexities of bye weeks and travel logistics. They strive to maintain competitive equity, considering factors such as the timing of bye weeks and the sequence of home and away games. The objective is to avoid scenarios like three consecutive road games or a road game following a road Monday night football game.

Flex Scheduling: Adapting to the Season’s Flow

Introduced in 2006, flex scheduling allows the NFL to adjust game times to ensure the best match-ups are broadcast to the largest audience, especially towards the end of the season. This flexibility primarily affects Sunday Night Football, with games potentially moving from afternoon to evening slots.

The Role of Broadcast Partners

The NFL’s six broadcast partners (CBS, Fox, NBC, NFL Network, ESPN, and Prime Video) play a significant role in the schedule-making process. They each desire to air the week’s best matchups to attract the largest audiences. The league’s marquee matchups are often scheduled for prime time slots—Thursday, Sunday, or Monday nights—or the late game on Sunday afternoons.

International Games and Their Impact

The NFL’s expansion into international markets has added another layer to the scheduling puzzle. With games in London, Mexico City, and now Munich, the league ensures that each team plays internationally at least once every eight years. In 2023, for example, the schedule included three games in London, one in Munich, and one in Mexico. The league carefully considers travel logistics and team preferences, sometimes aligning an international game with a team’s bye week to reduce stress and travel fatigue.

Adjusting for Unforeseen Events

Flexibility is key in NFL scheduling. For instance, in 2017, Hurricane Irma forced the postponement of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Week 1 game against the Miami Dolphins. The teams shared a Week 11 bye, so the game was rescheduled for that week, giving both an unexpected early bye. Such adjustments, while challenging, are essential to maintain the integrity of the season.

Cross-Flexing and Broadcast Distribution

Introduced in 2014, cross-flexing allows the NFL to shift games between CBS and Fox to balance the broadcast of games across networks. This means an all-AFC game could air on Fox, and an all-NFC game on CBS, ensuring an equal number of games are cross-flexed between the networks. For example, if CBS airs three games originally slated for Fox, then Fox would reciprocate with three games from CBS.

Case Studies: Specific Team Schedules

Analyzing a team’s schedule can provide insight into the complexities of scheduling. Take the New York Giants’ 2023 schedule as an example:

  • The Giants faced a mix of home and away games against divisional and non-divisional opponents.
  • Their bye week fell in Week 13, a strategic placement considering travel and previous opponents.
  • Key matchups, like the Week 14 game against the Green Bay Packers, were scheduled for prime time, highlighting the importance of television ratings and audience engagement.

Read: When does NFL schedule get released?

Striking a Balance: The Art of the Perfect Schedule

Creating the perfect NFL schedule is an elusive goal. The schedule makers aim to balance competitive fairness, television ratings, fan interest, and logistical feasibility. They must weigh various factors like limiting consecutive road games, ensuring fair rest periods, and accommodating stadium availability. Despite the best efforts, some teams might perceive their schedule as more challenging than others, but overall, the NFL consistently delivers a compelling and entertaining slate of games season after season.

Share This Article
By Casey
Casey is a seasoned NFL aficionado with years of dedication to observing and analyzing the intricacies of American football. As the mastermind behind "NFL Schedule", Casey offers a treasure trove of insights ranging from detailed analyses of team schedules to the cultural nuances within the sport. His website is a testament to his passion, showcasing articles on diverse topics like team logistics, player experiences, and the financial aspects of the game. Casey's expertise is not just in the statistics and strategies of football, but also in its cultural and human elements, making him a comprehensive guide to the world of the NFL.
Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

nfl coaches on the hot seat 2024 NFL Pro Bowl: Unveiling the Star-Studded AFC Roster 2024 NFC Pro Bowl Roster: Star-Studded Lineup Revealed Week 18 NFL injury report for 2023 season Twist in the Tale: Mahomes’ Brother’s Legal Saga Takes an Unexpected Tur Gridiron Showdowns: Week 18 NFL Picks and Playoff Predicaments