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The National Football League (NFL) season begins the weekend after Labor Day. Each team plays 16 games during a 17-week period. Traditionally, the majority of each week's games are played on Sunday afternoon. Exceptions are one game each week being played on Sunday night, and another game being played on Monday night, known as Monday Night Football. For the last few weeks of the regular season (after the NCAA football regular season has concluded), the league typically schedules one or two additional nationally televised games on Saturday or Thursday evenings.

In addition, the Dallas Cowboys and the Detroit Lions each traditionally host a game on Thanksgiving Day also known as the Thanksgiving Classic. Since 2006, a third game has been scheduled for that same day in primetime.

Contents

History

Number of regular season games per team
1935-1936 12 games
1937-1942 11 games
1943-1945 10 games
1946 11 games
1947-1960 12 games
1961-1977 14 games
1978-1981 16 games
1982 9 games (strike)
1983-86 16 games
1987 15 games (strike)
1988-present 16 games

In its early years after 1920, the NFL did not have a set schedule, and teams played as few as eight and as many as sixteen games, many against independent professional, college or amateur teams. From 1926 through 1946, they played from eleven to fifteen games per season, depending on the number of teams in the league. From 1947 through 1960, each NFL team played 12 games per season. In 1960, the American Football League began play and introduced a balanced schedule of 14 games per team over a fifteen week season, in which each of the eight teams played each of the other teams twice, with one bye week. Competition from the new league caused the NFL to expand and follow suit with a fourteen-game schedule in 1961. From 1961 through 1977, the NFL schedule consisted of fourteen regular season games played over fourteen weeks. Opening weekend typically was the weekend after Labor Day, or even two weekends after Labor Day. Teams played six, or even seven exhibition games. In 1978, the league changed the schedule to include sixteen regular season games and four exhibition games. From 1978-1989, the sixteen games were played over sixteen weeks.

In 1990, the NFL introduced a bye-week to the schedule. Each team played sixteen regular season games over seventeen weeks. One week during the season, on a rotating basis, each team would have the weekend off. As a result, opening weekend was moved up to Labor Day weekend. The NFL season included two bye-weeks and sixteen games in 1993, but the league returned to a seventeen week schedule the following year.

Since the 2002 season, the league has scheduled a nationally televised regular season kickoff game on the Thursday night after Labor Day, prior to the first Sunday of NFL games to kick off the season. The first one, featuring the San Francisco 49ers and the New York Giants, was held on September 5, 2002 largely to celebrate New York City's resilience in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks [1]. Since 2004, the NFL has indicated that the opening game will normally be hosted by the defending Super Bowl champions as the official start of their title defense. Thus, under this scheduling system, the earliest the regular season could begin is September 4, as it was in the 2008 season (as the 1st falls on a Monday), while the latest possible is September 10, as it was in the 2009 season, due to the 1st falling on a Tuesday.

Formula

Currently, each team's 16-game regular season schedule is set using a pre-determined formula:

A sample scheduling grid, with a single team's (the Browns) schedule highlighted. Under this hypothetical schedule, the Browns played the teams in blue twice and the teams in yellow once, for a total of 16 games
  • Each team plays the other three teams in their division twice: once at home, and once on the road (six games).
  • Each team plays the four teams from another division within its own conference once on a rotating three-year cycle: two at home, and two on the road (four games).
  • Each team plays the four teams from a division in the other conference once on a rotating four-year cycle: two at home, and two on the road (four games).
  • Each team plays once against the other teams in its conference that finished in the same place in their own divisions as themselves, not counting the division they were already scheduled to play: one at home, one on the road (two games).


This schedule guarantees that all teams will play each other at least once every four years, and will play in every other team's stadium at least once every eight years. This schedule also guarantees that regardless of a given team's final divisional placement in the previous season, the 16 games that team plays in this current season will consist of:

  • four games against opponents who finished the previous season in first place in their respective divisions,
  • four games against opponents who finished the previous season in second place in their respective divisions,
  • four games against opponents who finished the previous season in third place in their respective divisions, and
  • four games against opponents who finished the previous season in fourth place in their respective divisions.

For example, in the 2009 schedule grid shown above and to the right, the Browns finished fourth in their division in the previous (2008) season. Thus, in the 2009 season, they will play four games against first-place teams (Steelers twice, Chargers, Vikings), four games against second-place teams (Ravens twice, Broncos, Bears), four games against third-place teams (Bengals twice, Raiders, Packers), and four games against fourth-place teams (Bills, Jaguars, Chiefs, Lions).

Prior to 2002 (when the league expanded to 32 teams) the league used similar scheduling rubrics, though they were adjusted for the number of teams and divisions. From 1970-1994, and again from 1999-2001, the league did not have equal numbers of teams in every division, which allowed for unbalanced schedules. The only time since the merger that the league has been completely "balanced" has been from 1995-1998 (with 6 divisions of 5 teams each) and since 2002 (with 8 divisions of 4 teams each). Additionally, prior to 2002, teams always played four of the teams from a division in the other conference on a rotating basis, but not their own; meaning that while an AFC team would be more likely to play each NFC team on a regular basis, they could go far longer without playing every team in their own conference. For example, between 1970 (when the leagues merged) and 2002 (when the current schedule was introduced) the Denver Broncos and the Miami Dolphins played only 6 times; including a stretch (1976-1997) where they met only once in 22 seasons.[2] Under the current system, they are guaranteed to meet at least every third year.

After the 2009 season, after all of the teams have cycled through playing against each other both home and away, the league will then implement a modified version of the 2002 scheduling formula, tweaked especially to relieve East Coast teams from having to travel to the West Coast multiple times during the same season. Under the original 2002 formula, those teams scheduled to play all the AFC West clubs had to travel to both Oakland and San Diego in the same season, while those clubs playing the NFC West had to make their way to both San Francisco and Seattle.[3] In the 2008 season, the New England Patriots and New York Jets each had to make cross-country trips to all four of the aforementioned West Coast teams. Under the 2010 modified formula, clubs would only have to visit one West Coast team (AFC West or NFC West), plus one western team from the same division closer to the Midwest. Specifically, those clubs traveling to Oakland would then instead play at Denver, while those playing at San Diego would instead just have a shorter trip to Kansas City. For those playing NFC West teams, some will travel to both San Francisco and Arizona in the same season, while others will instead make trips to Seattle and St. Louis.

There also have been proposals to expand the regular season schedule to 17 or 18 games per team. Current Commissioner Roger Goodell has said he favors expanding it to 18 games.[4] However, he said that a longer regular season is unlikely to begin any earlier than 2011.[5] The NFL Players' Association opposes extending the season, largely because of injury concerns, and extending the season would require that such an extension be included in the next collective bargaining agreement, which expires in 2011.

Future Schedules

For the next 5 season, assuming no major rules changes:

Teams Opponents
Year Division Intraconf. Interconf.
2009 AFC East AFC South NFC South
AFC North AFC West NFC North
AFC South AFC East NFC West
AFC West AFC North NFC East
NFC East NFC South AFC West
NFC North NFC West AFC North
NFC South NFC East AFC East
NFC West NFC North AFC South
2010 AFC East AFC North NFC North
AFC North AFC East NFC South
AFC South AFC West NFC East
AFC West AFC South NFC West
NFC East NFC North AFC South
NFC North NFC East AFC East
NFC South NFC West AFC North
NFC West NFC South AFC West
2011 AFC East AFC West NFC East
AFC North AFC South NFC West
AFC South AFC North NFC South
AFC West AFC East NFC North
NFC East NFC West AFC East
NFC North NFC South AFC West
NFC South NFC North AFC South
NFC West NFC East AFC North
2012 AFC East AFC South NFC West
AFC North AFC West NFC East
AFC South AFC East NFC North
AFC West AFC North NFC South
NFC East NFC South AFC North
NFC North NFC West AFC South
NFC South NFC East AFC West
NFC West NFC North AFC East
2013 AFC East AFC North NFC South
AFC North AFC East NFC North
AFC South AFC West NFC West
AFC West AFC South NFC East
NFC East NFC North AFC West
NFC North NFC East AFC North
NFC South NFC West AFC East
NFC West NFC South AFC South

Regular season games played outside of the U.S.

To date, only four NFL regular season games have been played outside of the U.S. The first was the 2005 game between the Arizona Cardinals and the San Francisco 49ers, which was played in Mexico City.

In October 2006, NFL club owners approved a plan to stage up to two international regular season games per season beginning in 2007 and continuing through at least 2011. [6] The New York Giants and the Miami Dolphins played at Wembley Stadium in London on October 28, 2007 for the first of these games.[7][8] A second game in London took place on Sunday 26th October 2008, when the San Diego Chargers took on the nominal 'home team' New Orleans Saints, also at Wembley.[9] The New England Patriots were the designated visitors when they beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 35-7 on October 25, 2009.[10] [11]

The long term plan is to have two international games played every year, on a 16-year rotating schedule that would guarantee that each team would get to play twice over that span: once as the home team and once as the away team.

The Buffalo Bills will play eight games through 2012 in Toronto, Ontario. The Bills will play five regular season games (one each season) and three preseason games (one every other season) through 2012 in the Rogers Centre. The Bills first of eight games in Toronto was a preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on August 14, 2008.[12] The Dolphins beat the Bills 16-3 in the first regular season game of the series, on December 7, 2008. The New York Jets will play the Bills on Thursday, December 3, 2009.

References

  1. ^ Associated Press (2002-09-05). "Niners edge Giants on late field goal 16-13". NFL.com. http://www.nfl.com/gamecenter/recap/NFL_20020905_SF@NYG. Retrieved 2006-11-17.  
  2. ^ "Denver Broncos Vs. Miami Dolphins". The Football Database. http://www.footballdb.com/teamvsteam.html?tm=10&opp=17. Retrieved 2007-09-22.  
  3. ^ http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/news/story?id=4009230 NFL to make West Coast road format more reasonable
  4. ^ Yahoo Sports
  5. ^ N.F.L. Owners Will Vote to Lengthen Season, Goodell Says
  6. ^ "Resolution approved for international games". NFL.com. 2006-10-24. http://www.nfl.com/news/story/9752443. Retrieved 2007-01-11.  
  7. ^ "London to host 2007 regular-season game". NFL.com. 2007-01-16. http://www.nfl.com/news/story/9971024. Retrieved 2007-02-10.  
  8. ^ "Dolphins will host Giants in a game in London". ESPN.com. 2007-02-01. http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/news/story?id=2751440. Retrieved 2007-02-02.  
  9. ^ Game report on BBC website.[1]
  10. ^ [2]
  11. ^ [3]
  12. ^ [4]

http://www.nfl.com/preseason/story?id=09000d5d807905e5&template=without-video&confirm=true

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