Exploring the Logic Behind NFL’s Scheduling

In one week, the NFL regular season will kick off. You can’t help but feel that every season some teams have easier schedules than others. How does that happen? Well the answer is it’s not arbitrary, according to Reddit.

After a thorough review from the 2012 schedule of two teams, you’ll find this is the case.

Starting with the basics, the NFL has 32 teams and two conferences, the AFC and the NFC; they are further divided into four, four-team divisions. The eight divisions include the following: AFC North, AFC East, AFC South, AFC West, NFC North, NFC East, NFC South and the NFC West.

Each year, every team will play the other team in their division twice: once at home and once at the opposing team’s home stadium. For the NFC North, as an example, the Green Packers will play the Chicago Bears, the Minnesota Vikings and the Detroit Lions twice each year. This represents six of its 16 regular season games.

Then we have the other 10 games.

Every year each division goes up against another division from the same conference and one other from a division in the other conference. For example, in 2012, every NFC North team faced every NFC West team and every team from the AFC South. This represented eight additional games of their 16 regular season games.

This left two remaining games and each year, every team will play two teams from the same conference not in the division they are already scheduled to play, and who finished the season in the same position in their respective division.

The Packers finished with the top NFC North record in 2011 and this means they’ll play the team with the best record from the NFC East, the NY Giants and the team with the best NFC South record, the New Orleans Saints, in 2012.

It appears that the teams at the top of league have the easiest schedule is combination of chance, in which other divisions they happen to be facing have low win records, and the fact that they are the top team in their division and therefore the other teams in their division all had worse records than them.

Again, let’s look at the Packers and the Vikings schedules.


NFC North games included the Vikings (3 wins in 2011 x 2 = 6 wins), the Bears (8 wins x 2 = 16 wins) and the Lions (10 wins x 2 = 20 wins)

NFC West games with wins: Rams (2), Seahawks (7), Cardinals (8), and the 49ers (13)

AFC South games with wins: Colts (2), Jaguars (5), Titans (9), and the Texans (10)

Other NFC games with wins: Saints (13) and then Giants (9)

Total wins = 120


NFC North games with wins: Bears (16), Lions (20) and then Packers (30)

NFC West games: Rams (2), Seahawks (7), Cardinals(8), and the 49ers(13)

AFC South games: Colts (2), Jaguars (5), Titans (9) and the Texans (10)

Other NFC games: Buccaneers (4), Redskins (5)

Total wins = 131

A few thoughts:

While the Vikings played the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Washington Redskins, who had 13 less combined wins than the Saints and Giants, they had to play the Packers two times. This comes to 30 wins. The Packers played the Vikings twice, which came to six wins.

The 24-game differential between the Packers and Vikings, less the 13 game difference between their other opponents from 2012,this equals an 11 total win difference between the two teams for their 2012 schedule.

As for which divisions face each other, this is rotational based. This season, the NFC North faces the NFC East and the AFC North. Next year, they will go up against the NFC South and the AFC East and in 2015, again they play the NFC West and the AFC West.

Here’s one exception: In 2010, the league set forth a rule for East Coast teams. They aren’t required to travel in the same seasons to away games at either both San Francisco and Seattle, or both Oakland and San Diego.

And at the end of the day in 2012, Green Bay finished 11-5 and Minnesota went 10-6.

Debbie Baratz

Deb has been writing about the NFL and NCAA football for the last few years. She is a full-time writer and an avid sports fan. Follow her on twitter @ldbar.

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