Regular Season (NFL)

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The National Football League (NFL) begins the weekend after Labor Day . The regular season lasts 17 weeks, in which each team plays 16 games. Traditionally, most games are played on Sunday afternoons. However, one game per week is usually played on Sunday evening and one on Monday evening ( Monday Night Football ). On some match days there are also games on Thursdays. In the final weeks of the regular season (after the NCAA Football Regular Season has ended), the league designed the schedule so that one or two additional games can be broadcast across the US on television, usually on Saturday or Thursday evenings.

In addition, the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions traditionally have a home game on Thanksgiving (Thanksgiving Classic). Since 2006, a third game has been scheduled for prime time on this day.


Number of regular season game 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)
1983-1986 16 games
1987 15 games (strike)
1988 – today 16 games

In the early years from 1920, the NFL had no fixed schedule. The teams played a minimum of 8 and a maximum of 16 games, many against independent professional teams, college teams or amateur teams. From 1926 to 1946, each NFL team played 11 to 15 games per season, depending on the number of teams that made up the league. From 1947 to 1960 there were twelve games per team and season on the schedule. In 1960, the newly established competitive league, the American Football League, implemented a game plan according to which each team played 14 games in 15 weeks. Each of the eight teams played twice against each other and had a weekend free. The NFL responded in 1961 by extending the regular season to 14 games. From 1961 to 1977, the NFL played the 14 games in 14 weeks. The season started on the weekend after Labor Day, sometimes a week or two later. The teams also played six to seven exhibition games. In 1977 the NFL expanded the regular season schedule to 16 games, which led to a reduction in the number of exhibition games to four. Until 1989, these 16 games were played in 16 weeks.

In 1990 the NFL introduced a game-free weekend per team (16 games in 17 weeks). That led to Labor Day weekend as the start of the season. In 1993 there were two game-free weekends per team, but they returned to one in 1994.

Since 2002, the NFL has been running a US-wide televised regular season kickoff game on the Thursday evening after Labor Day. The first was the New York Giants against the San Francisco 49ers on September 5, 2002, in commemoration of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Since 2004, the reigning Super Bowl winner has played the kickoff game as a home game as the official start of his title defense out. The earliest possible season start is September 4th (like 2008, when September 1st was a Monday) and the latest possible season start is September 10th (like 2009, when September 1st was a Tuesday).

game schedule

The 16 games that each team plays during the regular season are currently composed according to the following system:

An example with the schedule of a single team (the Browns). In this hypothetical game plan, the Cleveland Browns play twice against the blue teams and once against the yellow teams, for a total of 16 games
  • Each team plays twice against each of the three other teams in its division: once at home, once away (6 games)
  • Each team plays once against all four teams from another division of its own conference according to a 3-year rotation principle: two games at home, two away (4 games)
  • Each team plays once against all four teams in another division of the other conference according to a 4-year rotation principle: two games at home, two away (4 games)
  • Each team plays once against the other teams in its own conference, which had the same place in their own divisions in the preseason as the team itself, with the exception of the team from the division that will be played this season anyway: a game at home , one away (2 games)

This schedule guarantees that all teams play against every other team at least every four years and must play in every other team's stadium at least every eight years. He also guarantees that the opponents of each team, regardless of their placement in the preseason, will be composed as follows:

  • 4 games against teams that finished the preseason in 1st place in their division,
  • 4 games against teams that finished the preseason in 2nd place in their division,
  • 4 games against teams that finished the preseason in 3rd place in their division and
  • 4 games against teams that finished the preseason in 4th place in their division.

Example based on the Browns schedule for 2009 shown above on the right: The Browns finished the preseason (2008) in 4th place in their division, so they play in 2009:

  • 4 games against first placed (2 × Steelers, 1 × Chargers, 1 × Vikings)
  • 4 games against runners-up (2 × Ravens, 1 × Broncos, 1 × Bears)
  • 4 games against third-placed players (2 × Bengals, 1 × Raiders, 1 × Packers)
  • 4 games against fourth place (1 × Bills, 1 × Jaguars, 1 × Chiefs, 1 × Lions)

Prior to 2002, when the league expanded to 32 teams, the NFL used similar fixtures, differing in the number of teams and divisions. Between 1970 and 1994 and then again between 1999 and 2001, the league had different numbers of teams per division (4 and 5 respectively) and therefore did not have a fully balanced schedule. Before the last expansion, the phase from 1995 to 1998 was the only time after the merger of the NFL and AFL in 1970 that the league was "balanced", i.e. each of the six divisions comprised five teams. In addition, each team before 2002 always played against four teams from the other conference on a rotation principle, but there was no rotation principle within their own conference. This meant that an AFC team would regularly compete against all NFC teams, but it could happen that they would not play against another AFC for a much longer period of time. For example, the Denver Broncos and Miami Dolphins (both AFC) met only six times between 1970 and 2002, and only once between 1976 and 1997 in 22 seasons. According to the current schedule, they meet every three years.

After the 2009 season, an entire cycle has been completed since 2002, ie each team played against each other at least once at home and once away. For the next cycle, the schedule was slightly changed, mainly to save the east coast teams from having to travel to the west coast several times in the same season. According to the 2002 cycle, the teams that played against the AFC West teams had to travel to Oakland and San Diego that same season, and those that played against the NFC West teams had to travel to San Francisco and Seattle that same season. In the 2008 season, the New England Patriots and the New York Jets had to play away against all four of the aforementioned West Coast teams. According to the 2010 cycle, teams only have to travel to one of the West Coast teams (AFC West or NFC West) in the same season and play the second away game with a team closer to the Midwest:

  • AFC: instead of Oakland in Denver and instead of San Diego in Kansas City
  • NFC: instead of Seattle in Arizona and instead of San Francisco in St. Louis

There were also suggestions to extend the regular season to 17 or 18 games per team, for example Commissioner Roger Goodell advocated an extension to 18 games. The NFL Player's Association rejected an extension and justified this with fears of an increase in the risk of injury and a longer regular season would also have an impact on the next Collective Bargaining Agreement , which expires in 2011.


For the next seasons, the schedule provides the following distribution:

season Conference AFC East AFC North AFC South AFC West NFC East NFC North NFC South NFC West
2018 AFC South west East North South East North west
NFC North South East west South west East North
2019 AFC North East west South East west South North
NFC East west South North North East west South
2020 AFC west South North East North South west East
NFC west East North South west South North East
2021 AFC South west East North west North East South
NFC South North west East South west East North

Games outside of the US

The first NFL game of a regular season outside of the USA was played in 2005 between the San Francisco 49ers and the Arizona Cardinals in Mexico City as part of the NFL International Series .

In October 2006, the club owners decided to play one or two games per season between 2007 and 2011 outside the United States:

The long-term plan is to play two games per season outside of the United States on a 16-year rotation principle. Each team would then take part in such a game twice, once as a home team and once from the away team.

The Buffalo Bills planned to play eight games in Toronto from 2008 to 2012 , including five regular season games (one per season) and three preseason games :

  • The first was a preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on August 14, 2008.
  • The second was the first regular season game in the series on December 7, 2008. The Bills were beaten 3-16 by the Miami Dolphins .
  • The Bills played their third game against the New York Jets on December 3, 2009.

Individual evidence

  1. Denver Broncos Vs. Miami Dolphins . The Football Database. Retrieved September 22, 2007.
  2. NFL to make West Coast road format more reasonable
  3. ^ NFL Owners Will Vote to Lengthen Season, Goodell Says
  4. ^ Resolution approved for international games , . October 24, 2006. Retrieved January 11, 2007.  
  5. ^ London to host 2007 regular-season game , . January 16, 2007. Retrieved February 10, 2007. 
  6. Dolphins wants to host Giants in a game in London . February 1, 2007. Retrieved February 2, 2007.
  7. ^ Game report on BBC website. [1]
  8. [2]
  9. [3]
  10. Bills to face Steelers in preseason game in Toronto ( Memento of April 6, 2008 in the Internet Archive )