How the NFL schedule gets made: How league determines opponents and all 272 games

The NFL schedule release, like everything about the NFL, has become an own event.

The full, 272-game 2022 regular-season schedule will be released Thursday. It will show which games are in prime time and when every game will kick off.

There are tons of factors that go into making the schedule, but first comes determining every team’s opponents. The league relies on a series of rotations to do that. Here are those rotations:

How the NFL schedule is made

Six divisional games

This is straightforward. Each team plays each team in its division twice, once at home and once on the road. One of these divisional games always closes out the regular season.

MORE: Strength of schedule for all 32 NFL teams in 2022

Four games vs. another division in the conference

Each team also plays four games against another division within its conference. The NFC West, for example, is playing the NFC South in 2022. So 10 of the Super Bowl champion Rams’ games this year are against the teams in their division and the Buccaneers, Saints, Falcons and Panthers. These matchups were also known years in advance because of the rotation.

Four games vs. one division in the opposite conference

Each team plays four games against a division in the other conference. Staying with the Rams as an example, they will face the AFC West this year as part of the league’s annual interconference rotation. That adds the Chiefs, Broncos, Raiders, and Chargers to the slate.

Two games vs. teams in the conference that finished in the same place in the standings

The league also schedules teams against conference teams that had the same finish their respective divisions. To ensure parity (and better games), the NFL matches first-place teams against first-place teams from the season before, second-place teams against second-place teams, and so on. The reigning NFC West champion Rams will play the Packers (first place in the NFC North) and Cowboys (first in the NFC East) in 2022.

One game vs. a team in the opposite conference that finished in the same place in the standings

Similarly, teams play one game against a team in the opposite conference with a corresponding finish. This is also set on a rotational basis, and the home team alternates every year. This year, the NFC teams will host all these games (the AFC hosted them last year), so the Rams will host the Bills in 2022 as the NFC West teams host their corresponding finisher from last year in the AFC East.

MORE: The 12 best revenge games on 2022 NFL schedule, from Russell Wilson vs. Seahawks to Mike McCarthy vs. Packers

With the opponents set, how is the schedule made?

The NFL’s current schedule-making process is far more refined than it used to be. While schedule-makers once used a giant peg board to set the schedule, the league now generates it with a mix of computer and human elements.

According to the NFL’s operations manual, six executives act as league schedule-makers. They work around preexisting events at NFL stadiums (concerts, for instance) and make sure broadcast partners are satisfied with the games they’re given to televise. With the league changing to a 17-game regular season in 2021, they now have to set the dates and times for 272 regular-season games, up from the previous 256.

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