Football Basics – The Schedule

Football Basics - The Schedule

A few days ago the NFL released the schedule for the 2015 NFL season. A schedule release probably sounds like a pretty boring event, but I assure you that it is anything but in the world of The Snap.

I equate the release of the NFL schedule to the successful completion of signing up for classes in high school or college. There was something weirdly satisfying about seeing the final listing of classes – you got excited seeing the names of certain teachers/professors, you dreaded having two classes in a row that were on the opposite side of campus, and after comparing schedules, you could start planning a social life based on when you would see your friends.

There are a lot of quotes out there from players and coaches saying that the order of their games doesn’t really matter. Maybe they feel like they have to say this because every game in the NFL is important.

Personally, I think this blasé attitude is all for show.

You can’t tell me that players aren’t disappointed upon learning they will be playing outside in frigid Green Bay, Wisconsin, in December. (By the end of the month, the average high temperature in Green Bay in December is 26 degrees. Hell to the no.)

This MMQB article on the creation of the schedule is a must-read. Seriously, stop reading this post right now and click that link so you can gain a full appreciation of what goes into making the NFL schedule.

I’ll wait.

OK, you good? (I’ll know if you didn’t click – WordPress gives me statistics on things like that.)

Well then, now that you’re done reading the article, is your mind blown by how many things factor into the creation of the schedule? It should be.

Moving on, let’s talk about the important things we learn when the schedule is released.

1) Order of Opponents – It sounds obvious, but the schedule release tells teams when they will face their opponents during the season. Prior to the schedule announcement, teams only know who their opponents will be in the upcoming year.

How do they already know their opponents? Let’s get sidetracked here to discuss. Each year, a team will play the teams in their division twice during the season. So that’s 6 games. (For example, the Patriots play the Jets twice, the Bills twice and the Dolphins twice since they are all in the AFC East.) Then each division will play another division in their conference on a three-year rotating schedule. (The AFC East will play against all teams in the AFC South this year. Next year they will play against the AFC North and then the following year the AFC West.) That’s 4 more games. Another 4 games are added by a rotating schedule of divisions in the other conference. (The AFC East will play the NFC East this year, then NFC West, NFC South and finally the NFC North in the following years.) That gets us up to 14 games. The final two games are determined by win-loss records of the prior season. The purpose of this is to keep schedules competitive by forcing teams with similar win-loss records to play each other. 

OK, let’s get back to the other things we learn about when the schedule is released.

2) Challenges for Each Team – In Brian Billick’s More Than a Game, he has a quote from NFL Films COO Howard Katz. (If you read the MMQB article, you’ll know that Katz is one of the architects of the schedule.) “When just about everyone is mad at me,” he says, “I know I have done a good job.” Every team thinks the schedule makers are out to get them. Multiple games in a row on the road, a stretch of games against tough opponents, or even not starting or closing out the season at home are all reasons to be less than jazzed about your schedule.

3) Bye Weeks – The regular season is 17 weeks long. Each team plays 16 games and has one week off (the bye week). Bye weeks can occur anywhere from week 4 to week 12. If I were a player, I’d be happy with a mid-season bye week when injuries are starting to rack up and your body could use a break.

Last, but certainly not least, the schedule release is an exciting moment for fans because it helps us plan for which games we would like to attend. In our case, it’s usually all of them, but that’s besides the point.

In case you are hankering for specifics on how this year’s schedule was developed, you should check out MMQB’s 2015 edition of the article linked above. Also, here are some fun facts about the 2015 schedule and what it means for your favorite team.

The start of the season may be a few months away, but if someone were to ask me right now if I were ready for some football, the answer would be yes.

– Michelle

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