Football Ops

Football Ops

Protecting the integrity of the greatest game.

NFL Ops: Honoring the Game

It's our responsibility to strengthen the sport.

League Governance

Ensuring a consistent and fair game that is decided on the field, by the players.

NFL Rules Enforcement

Ensuring that players conduct themselves in a way that honors the sport and respects the game.

NFL Way to Play

Knees Bent. Pads Down. Head Up.

The NFL and HBCUs

The NFL is proud of the HBCU professional football legacy.

Economic & Social Impact

Honoring the league’s commitment to serve the communities where the game is played.

The NFL Ops Team

Meet the people behind NFL Operations.

The Game

The Game

Learn about the people, the jobs and the technology that deliver the best game possible to NFL fans across the U.S. and around the world. 

Gameday: Behind the Scenes

Countdown to kickoff: how NFL games happen.

Technology

In the NFL, balancing technology with tradition.

Impact of Television

How television has changed the game.

History of Instant Replay

Upon further review…

Creating the NFL Schedule

It takes hundreds of computers and four NFL executives to create the NFL’s 256-game masterpiece.

The Players

The Players

Learn how NFL players have changed over time, how they’re developed and drafted and how the league works with them after their playing days are over.  

Evolution of the NFL Player

Creating an NFL player: from “everyman” to “superman.”

Development Pipeline

Supporting the next generation of players and fans.

Getting Into the Game

Preparing players of all ages for success at football’s highest level.

The NFL Draft

Introducing the next wave of NFL superstars. 

NFL Player Engagement

A look at the programs the NFL and its partners provide to help every player before, during and after his football career.

NFL Legends Community

Celebrating, educating, embracing and connecting all former NFL players with each other, their former teams and the league.

The Officials

The Officials

Discover the evolution of professional officiating, the weekly evaluation process and how the NFL identifies and develops the next generation of officials.

In Focus: History of the Official

“One thing hasn’t changed: the pressure. It will always be there.”

Inside NFL GameDay Central

The latest information from the NFL's officiating command center.

These Officials Are Really Good

Every week, officials take the field ready to put months of preparation, training and hard work on display, knowing that the whole world — and the Officiating Department — is watching.

Officiating Development

Officiating an NFL game takes years of training and experience. 

The Rules

The Rules

NFL Football Operations protects the integrity of the game by ensuring that the rules and the officiating are consistent and fair to all competitors.

In Focus: Evolution of the NFL Rules

The custodians of football not only have protected its integrity, but have also revised its playing rules to protect the players, and to make the games fairer and more entertaining.

NFL Video Rulebook

The NFL Video Rulebook explains NFL rules with video examples.

2018 NFL Rulebook

Explore the official rules of the game.

2018 Rules Changes and Points of Emphasis

NFL Overtime Rules

NFL Tiebreaking Procedures

The NFL's procedures for breaking ties for postseason playoffs.

Signals Intelligence

The NFL's familiar hand signals help fans better understand the game.   

Football 101

Football 101

Terms Glossary

Sharpen your NFL football knowledge with this glossary of the game's fundamental terms. 

Formations 101

See where the players line up in pro football's most common offensive and defensive formations.

Quick Guide to NFL TV Graphics

Understand what the graphics on NFL television broadcasts mean and how they can help you get the most out of watching NFL games.

NFL Instant Replay Process

The NFL’s instant replay review process focuses on expediting instant replay reviews and ensuring consistency. Learn how it works.

Stats Central

Stats Central

Go inside the game with the NFL's official game stats. Sort the stats by season or by week.

Chart The Data

Chart and compare the NFL Football Operations stats you're looking for with the NFL's data tool. 

Weekly Dashboard

Get a snapshot of the current NFL game stats, updated weekly during the regular season.

Creating the NFL Schedule

It takes hundreds of computers and four NFL executives to create the NFL’s 256-game masterpiece.

Each spring four NFL executives take on an enormous task: creating the NFL schedule for the next season. 

The NFL schedule makers — Senior Vice President of Broadcasting Howard Katz, Senior Director of Broadcasting Blake Jones, Senior Manager of Broadcasting Charlotte Carey and Senior Director of Broadcasting Michael North — must consider the fans, the league’s broadcast partners and many other factors when building the 256-game schedule that spans the 17 weeks of the NFL season and showcases the league’s best matchups and talent.

They have to work around events that are already scheduled to take place in or near NFL stadiums — events that may compete with the games, put undue stress on the playing surface, or create traffic or logistical nightmares. The league begins collecting information from the clubs in January about any events that may create scheduling conflicts.

They are also constrained by internal factors. A formula determines each team’s opponents every year, and a rotating schedule ensures that every team plays each of the other 31 at least once in a four-year period.

It takes hundreds of computers in a secure room to produce thousands of possible schedules — a process that sets the stage for the schedule makers to begin the arduous task of picking the best possible one.

THE ANATOMY OF THE NFL SCHEDULE

The NFL's scheduling formula ensures that all teams will play every team from every division in the other conference once every four years.

The NFL's scheduling formula ensures that all teams will play every team from every division in the other conference once every four years.

The league’s 32 teams are split into two conferences — the American Football Conference (AFC) and the National Football Conference (NFC). The 16 teams in each conference are split into the East, North, South and West divisions; every division has four teams.

Here’s a breakdown of how each team’s opponents are set:

  • Six games against divisional opponents — two games per team, one at home and one on the road.
  • Four games against teams from a division within its conference — two games at home and two on the road.
  • Four games against teams from a division in the other conference— two games at home and two on the road.
  • Two games against teams from the two remaining divisions in its own conference — one game at home and one on the road. Matchups are based on division ranking from the previous season.

Once every team’s opponents are set, the schedule makers begin the process of determining when every game will be played.

GAME TIMES AND BROADCAST PARTNERS

The league’s five broadcast partners (CBS, Fox, NBC, NFL Network and ESPN) all want each week’s best matchups to air on their networks so they can attract the largest audiences. 

The league’s five broadcast partners (CBS, Fox, NBC, NFL Network and ESPN) all want each week’s best matchups to air on their networks so they can attract the largest audiences. 

The NFL's marquee matchups often are scheduled to air during the week’s premier time slots — Thursday, Sunday or Monday nights or the late game on Sunday afternoons. The league typically schedules the Super Bowl champion at home for the Thursday night game that kicks off the new season. In 2018, the league will also schedule games on the Saturdays of weeks 15 and 16. Starting this season, those start times and matchups will be announced no later than after Week 8.

Most NFL games are played on Sunday afternoons, with early games starting at 1:00 p.m. ET and the late games starting at either 4:05 p.m. ET or 4:25 p.m. ET, depending on whether the game is part of a network doubleheader.

The Sunday afternoon games are broadcast on Fox (NFC) and CBS (AFC); most games with AFC road teams are shown on CBS, and most of those with NFC road teams are broadcast on Fox.

Over the first 16 weeks of the season, Fox and CBS will each get eight doubleheaders — meaning that one will show games during both Sunday afternoon time slots, while the other airs a game in only one. They generally alternate doubleheader weeks; but not always. While this may result in one network airing doubleheaders on consecutive weeks, the league prevents either network from airing doubleheaders three weeks in a row.

INTERNATIONAL SERIES

In 2007, the NFL added a new twist to the scheduling process: the NFL International Series. Every year, teams play regular season games in London and Mexico City.

The Oakland Raiders hosted the New England Patriots at Azteca Stadium in Mexico City in 2017. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)

The Oakland Raiders hosted the New England Patriots at Azteca Stadium in Mexico City in 2017. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)

Scheduling these matchups presents a challenge for the schedule makers, which is why setting the International Series games is one of the first steps in the process.

The NFL’s International department works with host stadiums to determine availability. Once the matchups and venues are set, the games are locked in. While the schedule makers generally avoid hard-coding games, the international games are an exception.

Schedule makers then look at the three-week window around the games to try to find ways to make the long travel less of a burden on the teams. For example, a west coast team may play on the east coast the week before heading to London, and then practice there for the week leading up to the game.

FLEX SCHEDULES

The NFL introduced “flexible scheduling” in 2006 to make sure the best late-season matchups reach the largest audiences. This “flexing” involves moving a game from its scheduled Sunday afternoon slot on CBS or Fox to prime-time and NBC’s “Sunday Night Football.” 

In week 17 of the 2016 season, the game between the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers, which had playoff implications, was "flexed" to be shown on “NBC Sunday Night Football.” (Rick Osentoski via AP Images)

In week 17 of the 2016 season, the game between the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers, which had playoff implications, was "flexed" to be shown on “NBC Sunday Night Football.” (Rick Osentoski via AP Images)

The NFL consults with CBS, Fox and NBC to determine which games will be flexed. The league reserves the right to move the start times of Sunday games as long as it provides the teams affected and ticket-holding fans with 12 days’ notice. In week 17, the league can flex a game with playoff implications with only six days’ notice.

From 2006 through 2013, only games scheduled during weeks 11 through 17 could be flexed.  

Flex scheduling does not apply to Thursday, Monday or Saturday games. The NFL can also move Sunday afternoon games between the 1:00 p.m. ET and the 4:05 p.m. ET or 4:25 p.m. ET time slots. 

In 2014, the league introduced “cross-flexing,” which allows a select number of games annually that would have typically aired on Fox or CBS to be aired on the other network. That means, for example, that an all-AFC matchup could air on Fox and an all-NFC game could appear on CBS. An equal number of games must be cross-flexed: if CBS airs three games originally slated for Fox, then Fox would have to get three games that would have originally aired on CBS.

WHAT MAKES A GOOD SCHEDULE?

Each team has one bye week between weeks 4 and 12. Determining where that bye week falls for each team presents additional challenges for the schedule makers.

For example, the league tries to limit the number of times a team that played the week before has to face a rested team coming off its bye.

The schedule makers also consider where a team’s bye week fell in past seasons. A team with an early bye week one year will receive consideration for a later bye week the next season. Teams playing abroad usually have the option to schedule their byes the week after their international game. 

Even after all the factors have been weighed and the schedule is produced, the league occasionally has to make adjustments on short notice. A 2013 playoff run by baseball’s Oakland A’s required the NFL to push back the kickoff for a Raiders game to allow time to convert the field from baseball to football.

Even after all the factors have been weighed and the schedule is produced, the league occasionally has to make adjustments on short notice. A 2013 playoff run by baseball’s Oakland A’s required the NFL to push back the kickoff for a Raiders game to allow time to convert the field from baseball to football.

With games on Thursdays, Sundays and Mondays, the schedule makers have to allow enough time between games so teams aren’t at a disadvantage against an opponent that has had more time to prepare and rest. Teams scheduled to play on Thursday nights will not have to play on a short week more than once a season.

The league tries to limit the number of consecutive road games any team plays to two games, with emphasis at the beginning and end of the season. Sometimes, however, the schedule makers cannot avoid placing a team on the road for three straight weeks.

Schedule makers also work to avoid putting teams in a position where they cross the country too often over a short period of time or endure inordinate travel that may put the players at a competitive disadvantage compared with the club they’re playing.

The league tries to avoid scheduling teams that play on the road on Monday nights with an away game the following week to avoid having two road games separated by a short week.

The process is challenging, and there may be no such thing as a perfect schedule, but the schedule makers consistently provide the NFL’s fans and broadcast partners with a compelling and entertaining slate of games week after week.

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