Why Do I Have to Watch This Team?
One of the "writers" on an internet sports site was whining about having to watch Green Bay at Detroit on Monday Night Football a few weeks. Now I don't know if the guy just didn't know how the schedule works or if they were being an asshole for clicks. I believe it was the latter but I'll assume the former for the sake of this article.
The NFL team matchups are predictable because it's all based on rules. They're specific to the division for the most part except for 3 games, which depend on last year's rank within their division.
Every team plays the other teams in their own division twice, once at home and once away. They play every team in another division in their conference, which rotates in a 3 year cycle. They play every team in a division in the opposite conference, which rotates in a 4 year cycle.
Now we come to the rank-dependent games. If you came first in your division last year, you play teams that also came first in their division. For two games, you play teams from the other two divisions in your conference that have the same rank as you. In 2021, a 17th game was added and that's a team with the same rank as you from the division in the opposite conference that you played 2 years ago.
That's pretty confusing so here's an example using the Detroit Lions:
- Every other team from the NFC North twice. One game each at home and one away.
- Every team from the NFC West
- Every team from the AFC North
- The teams from the NFC South and NFC East that were last in their division last year
- The team from the AFC West that was last in their division last year
Now that the teams are set, now we come to the art of scheduling. The NFL does have some rules/guidelines they abide by. They also have to work around time zones and what other events are going on at each stadium. Finally, the NFL tries to put the most interesting games on Sunday or Monday nights. It's the rivalry between the Packers and Lions that caused them to put the game on Monday night.
Later we'll get into the flexible scheduling rules but they don't really kick in for a while.