How Is the NFL Schedule Created?

Chris TrapassoAnalyst IApril 18, 2013

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 01:  NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell speaks to the media during a press conference for Super Bowl XLVII at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center on February 1, 2013 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The 2013 NFL schedule will be released on Thursday, April 18, at 8 p.m. ET on NFL Network.  

Millions will tune in as their favorite teams' schedules will be mapped out from September through the end of December, crossing their fingers for appearances in prime time. 

Ever wonder how the schedule comes to fruition?

The formula behind its annual creation actually isn't as complicated as you might think (via

See? Not too complex.

With this stipulation in mind, it's easy to see why the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts played each other in nine consecutive seasons and the reasoning behind the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs playing five straight years (they'll square off in 2013, too).

This change was also noted in the same press release:

Beginning in 2010, a change was made to how teams are paired in the schedule rotation to ensure that teams playing the AFC and NFC West divisions would not be required to make two west coast trips (e.g. at San Francisco and at Seattle), while other teams in their division had none (e.g. at St. Louis and at Arizona). The pairings of teams are listed in the digital version of the 2011 NFL Record and Fact Book (attached).

In other words, it's the NFL's Anti-Jetlag Movement.

This formula also guarantees every team within the same division will play eight of its 10 non-division games against common opponents each season. 

To break a tie within the division, win-loss record in common games is the third tiebreaker behind head-to-head record and divisional record.

But that's not all. 

Judy Battista of the New York Times met with Howard Katz, a man she dubbed the NFL's scheduling czar, in order to get the details behind the formation of the NFL schedule. Katz said the following about the arduous responsibility bestowed on him every year:

"This is the annual ritual of finding out how stupid I am. We work for months and months in this room and ‘What were they thinking?’ It comes with the territory.”

She went on to write this about how Katz and his crew are aided by technology: 

Designing a schedule that generates those ratings, while also guaranteeing competitive fairness, is more complicated than ever, even though a computer program in use for eight years now does some of the work that was once done entirely by hand—spitting out 400,000 complete or partial schedules from a possible 824 trillion game combinations.

Along with the difficultly that comes with such an astronomically high number of possibilities, the NFL has to plan specific games around the Thursday night schedule—every team gets one on Thursday now—and MLB games that, as Battista put it, "could affect the availability of stadiums and parking lots in October." 

Ask the reigning Super Bowl-champion Baltimore Ravens about scheduling conflicts with hometown MLB teams.

Because the Orioles already have a game on the docket against the Chicago White Sox on Thursday, September 5, and the teams share a parking lot, Joe Flacco, Ray Rice and Co. will start their defense campaign on the road. 


In 2012, according to Battista, teams submitted more than 70 blocked-out dates for stadiums, some of which include "requests not to play at home on certain holidays." 


She even cited the reason why the New York Giants and New York Jets were both on the road in Week 3 of 2012—a Bruce Springsteen concert at MetLife Stadium. 

Apparently, there's some credence to the singer's nickname as "The Boss."

This interesting tidbit also came from Battista's article:

During Super Bowl week, Katz meets with representatives from each of the networks that carry NFL games, receiving wish lists from NBCESPN and the NFL Network for games they want in prime time, and lists—often nearly identical—from Fox and CBS of games they do not want to lose from their Sunday afternoon slots.

Battista continued:

Katz’s department starts with thousands of seed schedules, empty slates in which a handful of critical games with attractive story lines are placed in select spots. Then the computers generate possibilities around those games. The NFL also feeds the computer with penalties for situations it prefers to avoid—three-game trips, for example, or teams starting with two road games.

While the formula to decide the schedule certainly isn't rocket science, determining when games will occur while following an assortment of team- and league-suggested guidelines couldn't be more complicated. 

Now, when you tune in to the schedule release—an event bound to yield major TV ratings—you'll know just about everything that goes into the long, painstaking process.