Everything to know about the NFL schedule and how it works

Here’s a look at who creates the NFL schedule and what factors play a role in making it

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With the NFL draft in the rearview, it’s time to turn our attention to actual games.

The NFL schedule release is one of the biggest events of the offseason. Even though it comes four months prior to the opening kickoff, fans can begin making plans for the coming fall and winter as their favorite team chases the Lombardi Trophy.

With 272 games across 18 weeks, creating the regular season schedule is a tall task. What factors go into the schedule-making process, and who puts it all together?

Let’s examine the creation of the NFL schedule:

When is the NFL schedule announced?

While opponents for the next year are known right after the regular season ends in January and the new campaign doesn’t kick off until September, the NFL releases its full schedule in the spring.

The league also announces several matchups prior to the release of the full slate, including games that are part of the International Series.

How is the NFL schedule broken up?

Here is a breakdown of the 17-game schedule for each team:

  • Six games against divisional opponents
    • Two games against each team with one at home and one away
  • Four games against teams from one division within its conference
    • Two games at home and two away
    • Rotates between the other three divisions in a team’s conference each season
  • Four games against teams from one division in the other conference
    • Two games at home and two away
    • Rotates between the four divisions in the other conference each season
  • Two games against teams from the two remaining divisions in its own conference
    • One game at home and one away
    • Matchups are based on division ranking from the previous season with teams that finished in the same place in their respective divisions facing off
  • One game against a non-conference opponent from a division that the team is not scheduled to play
    • Matchup is based on division ranking from the previous season with teams that finished in the same place in their respective divisions facing off
    • Conferences alternate between home and away each season
    • This matchup was added to the schedule when the NFL moved from a 16-game season to a 17-game season in 2021

Each year, every team either hosts nine regular season games and one preseason game or eight regular season games and two preseason games. In 2024, NFC teams will have nine regular season home games and AFC teams will have eight regular season home games.

Who creates the NFL schedule?

Six NFL executives are tasked with creating the NFL schedule. That group includes vice president of broadcasting Michael North, senior vice president of broadcasting Howard Katz, senior director of broadcasting Blake Jones, director of broadcasting Charlotte Carey, vice president of broadcasting Onnie Bose and broadcasting senior coordinator Lucy Popko.

The schedule makers also get help thanks to technology. Thousands of computers produce thousands of possible schedules, leaving it up to the schedule makers to then select the best one.

What factors play a role in creating the NFL schedule?

The schedule makers aim to put its best matchups in its best time slots. Along with primetime games on Thursdays, Sundays and Mondays, the late window on Sunday is also typically a spot for premier contests.

Bye weeks are another consideration. Not only do the schedule makers have to figure out where each team’s bye will fall between Weeks 6-14, but they try to limit the number of times a team faces a foe coming off its bye.

Travel also comes into play. The schedule makers attempt to avoid giving a team more than two consecutive road games at any point in the season, though there are occasions where teams wind up playing three straight away games. They also try to make sure teams that play a road game on a Monday night do not have to play on the road the following week.

On top of that, they need to be aware of potential schedule conflicts. The league begins gathering information from teams in January about what events could cause logistical issues, such as concerts at the stadium or other sporting events at nearby venues.

Can games be moved after the NFL schedule is announced?

The NFL created “flexible scheduling” in 2006 to give it the potential to move top late-season matchups into time slots that could draw a greater audience.

The league can move a game from a 1 p.m. ET, 4 p.m. ET or 4:25 p.m. ET kickoff on Sunday into NBC’s Sunday Night Football and vice-versa between Weeks 5-17. In Week 18, the league can flex any game into Sunday Night Football for the regular season finale. 

In 2014, the NFL added another flexing capability in “cross-flexing,” allowing games that would have usually aired on CBS or FOX to be broadcast on the other Sunday afternoon network. An equal number of games must be cross-flexed onto each network in a season.

Flexing did not apply to Thursday, Saturday or Monday games as of 2022. The rules changed in 2023, and the NFL made its first ever Monday night flex in Week 15 by replacing Chiefs-Patriots with Eagles-Seahawks.

The NFL is able to flex games in and out of Monday Night Football anytime between Weeks 12-17 with all moves finalized at least 12 days in advance. It is also able to flex a maximum of two Thursday Night Football games per season from Weeks 13-17 and must make the decision at least 28 days in advance.

On top of these factors from a schedule-making lens, games can also be moved due to other factors such as weather or COVID-19 issues, as seen throughout the 2020 and 2021 seasons.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article was published in May 2022.

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