Since 2021, the NFL regular season has started the Labor Day weekend following the first Monday in September and concludes in early January. After that, the playoff tournament for the season begins. For the first time, the league expanded the 16-game schedule to 17 games from the 2021-22 regular season which consists of 272 games, with each of the 32 clubs playing 17 games over the course of 18 weeks and one bye week.
The games are normally arranged in five-hour intervals throughout the week. On Thursday night, the first game of the week is usually played. Most of the games are scheduled from Sunday afternoon kicks off at 1:00 PM (ET), late afternoon kicking off at 4:05 or 4:25 p.m. (ET), and Sunday night game at 8:20 PM (ET). Finally, in addition to the other regularly planned games, another Monday night game begins at 8:15 p.m. ET.
The broadcasting contracts specify who will broadcast each game. The Sunday afternoon games every week for American Football Conference host on CBS, Fox holds the National Football Conference games, while Sunday Night Football on NBC. The NFL Network holds the Thursday night game rights and ESPN broadcasts the Monday Night game. If teams from both conferences face each other, the coverage will be handled by the television network that has the rights to the away team. For each local television market, three Sunday afternoon games are broadcast.
The NFL has tight rules and a methodology for determining which teams will face off against each other from year to year. The algorithm is based on current division alignments and last season’s final division standings. When preparing a schedule for the NFL regular-season games, the algorithm takes this into account.
- Each team is required to play the other three clubs in their division twice. There will be two games, one at home and one on the road, for a total of six games.
- Each team must play once against the other four teams from the same conference’s other division. The allocated division is typically rotated every three years.
- If each team ended in a comparable position in the previous season’s final division results, they must play once against each team in the remaining two divisions in the same conference.
- Each team must also play once against the other four teams from the opposite conference’s division. The job is for a period of four years.
- Each team also plays one game against a team from the opposite conference’s assigned division.
Each team is guaranteed to play every other team in their conference at least once every three years, and teams from the opposite conference at least once every four years, according to this algorithm. Every season, all four clubs in each division play the same schedule, which is made feasible by the formula that requires all four teams to play fourteen out of seventeen games against the same opponents. The formula ensures that all of the games in the season are distributed evenly and fairly. No team is overworked, and they all get the same amount of rest in between games.
Non-divisional matchups between teams from different conferences can occur over numerous years if the two teams have finished in the same place. The Colts and Patriots, for example, faced each other every season from 2003 through 2012. Because they were perennially in fourth place in both divisions, the Redskins and Rams played each other from 2008 to 2012.
In order to match up intra-divisional matches, home and away designations are alternated according to a defined rotation over the years. However, the final regular schedule will not be revealed until spring. The NFL will require a few months to arrange its complete season plan in order to coincide with other goals like team wellness and avoid scheduling problems.
The teams must all have ample rest time, which implies that the matches must be organized in such a way that all teams get equal rest time to avoid unfair advantage for any single team.
At home or on the road, teams cannot be compelled to play too many games in a row. Only divisional match-ups can be played in the last week to dissuade playoff-bound teams from using their reserves.
Some NFL teams share stadiums with Major League Baseball teams during the regular season, which implies that MLB teams have first priority for these amenities. This might produce scheduling difficulties with NFL games, forcing them to switch home game dates when the MLB teams are in town. However, as more MLB teams switch to baseball-only venues, this is becoming less of an issue.
Regular-Season Games Held Outside the United States
Several regular-season NFL games have been held outside of the United States. A game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Arizona Cardinals was held in Mexico City in 2005. The New York Giants and the Miami Dolphins met in a game at Wembley Stadium in London in 2007. In 2008, the San Diego Chargers and the New Orleans Saints met in the same venue for a second meeting in the same country.
The NFL Regular Season games were cut short in 1982 and 1987 due to labor problems. The 1982 labor strike lasted 57 days and resulted in the cancellation of games from weeks 3 through 10. The NFL, on the other hand, added one week to the calendar, making it a nine-week season. The 1982 playoff match-ups were determined solely on the basis of conference standings.
In 1987, a 24-day strike and lockout occurred, however only one week of work was lost.
Natural disasters have forced the postponement of other games. Candlestick Park was damaged by an earthquake in 1989, requiring the games to be postponed. The games had to be relocated to Palo Alto’s Stanford Stadium.
The Louisiana Superdome was also damaged by Hurricane Katrina, forcing the games to be postponed. Hurricane Andrew in 1992, Hurricane Ivan in 2004, Hurricane Jeanne, Hurricane Wilma in 2005, and Hurricane Irma in 2017 were among the natural catastrophes that forced the NFL to alter its regular-season schedule.
The NFL regular season has been a wild ride so far. From the classic match-ups to rookie sensations and even some injuries that have forced players into retirement early, there’s always something exciting happening in football these days.