Football Ops

Football Ops

Protecting the integrity of the greatest game.

NFL Ops: Honoring the Game

It's our responsibility to strengthen the sport.

League Governance

Ensuring a consistent and fair game that is decided on the field, by the players.

NFL Rules Enforcement

Ensuring that players conduct themselves in a way that honors the sport and respects the game.

Fines & Appeals

The NFL's schedule of infractions and fines, and a process for appeal.

Economic & Social Impact

Honoring the league’s commitment to serve the communities where the game is played.

The NFL Ops Team

Meet the people behind NFL Operations.

The Game

The Game

Learn about the people, the jobs and the technology that deliver the best game possible to NFL fans across the U.S. and around the world. 

Gameday: Behind the Scenes

Countdown to kickoff: how NFL games happen.

Technology

In the NFL, balancing technology with tradition.

Impact of Television

How television has changed the game.

History of Instant Replay

Upon further review…

Creating the NFL Schedule

It takes 136 computers and four NFL executives to create the NFL's 256-game masterpiece.

The Players

The Players

Learn how NFL players have changed over time, how they’re developed and drafted and how the league works with them after their playing days are over.  

Evolution of the NFL Player

Creating an NFL player: from “everyman” to “superman.”

Development Pipeline

Supporting the next generation of players and fans.

Getting Into the Game

Preparing players of all ages for success at football’s highest level.

The NFL Draft

Introducing the next wave of NFL superstars. 

NFL Player Engagement

A look at the programs the NFL and its partners provide to help every player before, during and after his football career.

The Officials

The Officials

Discover the evolution of professional officiating, the weekly evaluation process and how the NFL identifies and develops the next generation of officials.

In Focus: History of the Official

“One thing hasn’t changed: the pressure. It will always be there.”

Inside NFL GameDay Central

The latest information from the NFL's officiating command center.

These Officials Are Really Good

Every week, officials take the field ready to put months of preparation, training and hard work on display, knowing that the whole world — and the Officiating Department — is watching.

Officiating Development

Officiating an NFL game takes years of training and experience. 

Behind the Stripes: Timeline

Starting the next week’s work when this week’s final whistle blows.

The Rules

The Rules

NFL Football Operations protects the integrity of the game by ensuring that the rules and the officiating are consistent and fair to all competitors.

In Focus: Evolution of the NFL Rules

The custodians of football not only have protected its integrity, but have also revised its playing rules to protect the players, and to make the games fairer and more entertaining.

2016 NFL Rulebook

Explore the official rules of the game.

NFL Video Rulebook

NFL SVP of Officiating Dean Blandino explains NFL rules with video examples.

2016 Rules Changes and Points of Emphasis

NFL Overtime Rules

Signals Intelligence

The NFL's familiar hand signals help fans better understand the game.   

Stats Central

Stats Central

Go inside the game with the NFL's official game stats.  Sort the stats by season or by week.

Chart The Data

Chart and compare the NFL Football Operations stats you're looking for with the NFL's data tool. 

Weekly Dashboard

Get a snapshot of the current NFL game stats, updated weekly during the regular season.

Creating the NFL Schedule

It takes 136 computers and four NFL executives to create the NFL's 256-game masterpiece.

Each spring four NFL executives take on an enormous task: creating the NFL schedule for the next season. 

Go behind the scenes of the team of four who build the NFL schedule, and learn about the man who started it all, Val Pinchbeck.

The NFL schedule-makers — Senior Vice President of Broadcasting Howard Katz, Vice President of Broadcasting Onnie Bose, Senior Manager of Broadcasting Jonathan Payne and Senior Director of Broadcasting Michael North — have to consider the fans, the league’s broadcast partners and many other factors when building the 256-game schedule that spans the 17 weeks of the NFL season and showcases the league’s best matchups and talent.

They have to work around events that are already scheduled to take place in or near NFL stadiums — events that may compete with the games, put undue stress on the playing surface, or create traffic or logistical nightmares. The league begins collecting information from the clubs in January about any events that may create scheduling conflicts.

They are also constrained by internal factors. A formula determines each team’s opponents every year, and a rotating schedule ensures that every team plays each of the other 31 at least once in a four-year period.

It takes 136 computers in a secure room to spit out every possible schedule — a process that sets the stage for the schedule-makers to begin the arduous task of picking the best possible one.

THE ANATOMY OF THE NFL SCHEDULE

The league’s 32 teams are split into two conferences — the American Football Conference (AFC) and the National Football Conference (NFC). The 16 teams in each conference are split into the East, North, South and West divisions; every division has four teams.

Here’s how each team’s opponents are set:

  • Every team plays six games against the other three teams in its division, facing off twice per season — once at home and once on the road.
The NFL's scheduling formula ensures that all teams will play every team from every division in the other conference once every four years.

The NFL's scheduling formula ensures that all teams will play every team from every division in the other conference once every four years.

  • Every team plays one game against each of the four teams from a division within its conference — two games at home and two on the road. Which division a team plays is determined by a rotation system ensuring that the teams in one division will play the teams in every other division in its conference once every three years.
  • Every team plays one game against each of the four teams from a division in the other conference once per season — two games at home and two on the road. These matchups are also determined by a rotation, which ensures that all teams play every team from every division in the other conference once every four years.
  • Every team plays its remaining two games against teams from the two remaining divisions in its own conference — one game at home and the other on the road. The matchups are determined by where the teams finished in their divisions in the previous season. For example, a team that finished the previous year in third place in its division will play the third-place teams from the two other divisions in its conference.

Once every team’s opponents are set, the schedule-makers begin the process of determining when and where every game will be played.

GAME TIMES AND BROADCAST PARTNERS

The league’s five broadcast partners (CBS, Fox, NBC, NFL Network and ESPN) all want each week’s best matchups to air on their networks so they can attract the largest audiences. 

The league’s five broadcast partners (CBS, Fox, NBC, NFL Network and ESPN) all want each week’s best matchups to air on their networks so they can attract the largest audiences. 

The NFL's marquee matchups often are scheduled to air during the week’s premier time slots — Thursday, Sunday or Monday nights or the late game on Sunday afternoons. In 2015 the league will also schedule games on the Saturdays of weeks 15 and 16.

Most NFL games are played on Sunday afternoons, with early games starting at 1:05 p.m. ETand the late games starting at either 4:05 p.m. ET or 4:25 p.m. ET, depending on whether the game is part of a network doubleheader.

The Sunday afternoon games are broadcast on Fox (NFC) and CBS (AFC). Interconference games with AFC road teams are shown on CBS; those with NFC road teams are broadcast on Fox.

Over the first 16 weeks of the season, Fox and CBS will each get eight doubleheaders — meaning that one will show games during both Sunday afternoon time slots, while the other airs a game in only one. Typically they alternate doubleheader weeks; occasionally other events, like the World Series, cause them to swap weeks. While this may result in one network airing doubleheaders on consecutive weeks, the league prohibits either network from airing doubleheaders three weeks in a row.

FLEX SCHEDULES

To make sure the best matchups at the end of the season are broadcast to the largest audiences, the NFL introduced “flexible scheduling” in 2006. This involves moving a game from its scheduled Sunday afternoon slot on CBS or Fox to the prime time hours of “NBC Sunday Night Football.”

The NFL consults with CBS, Fox and NBC to determine which games will be flexed, and the league reserves the right to move the start times of Sunday games as long as it provides the teams affected and ticket-holding fans with 12 days’ notice. In week 17, the league can flex a game with playoff implications with only six days’ notice.

In week 15 of the 2015 season, the game between the Arizona Cardinals at Philadelphia Eagles, which had playoff implications, was moved to be shown on “NBC Sunday Night Football.”

In week 15 of the 2015 season, the game between the Arizona Cardinals at Philadelphia Eagles, which had playoff implications, was moved to be shown on “NBC Sunday Night Football.”

From 2006 through 2013, only games scheduled during weeks 10–15 and week 17 could be “flexed.” Beginning in 2014, the league extended flex scheduling to include games starting in week 5. Between weeks 5 and 10, though, only a total of two games can be flexed, while no restrictions apply from week 11 on.

Flex scheduling does not apply to Thursday, Monday or the occasional Saturday games. The NFL always has had the ability to move Sunday afternoon games between the 1:05 p.m. ET and the 4:05 p.m. ET or 4:25 p.m. ET time slots.

In 2014 the league introduced “cross-flexing,” which allows up to seven games annually that would have typically aired on Fox or CBS to be aired on the other network. That means, for example, that an all-AFC matchup could air on Fox and an all-NFC game could appear on CBS. An equal number of games must be cross-flexed: If CBS airs three games originally slated for Fox, then Fox would have to get three games that would have originally aired on CBS. 

And There’s More …

Each team has one bye week between weeks 4 and 12. Determining where that bye week falls for each team presents additional challenges for the schedule-makers. For example, the league tries to limit the number of times a team that played the week before has to face a rested team coming off its bye. The additional rest could be seen as a competitive advantage for the team coming off the bye.

With games on Thursdays, Sundays and Mondays, the schedule-makers have to allow enough time between games so teams aren’t at a disadvantage against an opponent that has had more time to prepare and rest. Teams scheduled to play on Thursday nights will not have to play on a short week more than once a season.

The league tries to limit the number of consecutive home or road games any team plays to two games, though unavoidable situations have forced the schedule-makers to place a team at home or on the road for three straight weeks.

Even after all the factors have been weighed and the schedule is produced, the league occasionally has to make adjustments on short notice. A 2013 playoff run by baseball’s Oakland A’s required the NFL to push back the kickoff for a Raiders game to allow time to convert the field from baseball to football.

Even after all the factors have been weighed and the schedule is produced, the league occasionally has to make adjustments on short notice. A 2013 playoff run by baseball’s Oakland A’s required the NFL to push back the kickoff for a Raiders game to allow time to convert the field from baseball to football.

Schedule-makers also work to avoid putting teams in a position where they have to cross the country too often over a short period of time or endure inordinate amounts of travel that may put the players at a competitive disadvantage compared with the club they’re playing.

The league tries to avoid scheduling teams that play on the road on Monday nights with an away game the following week to avoid having two road games separated by a short week.

Three 2015 regular season games will be played in London. The bye week for the teams in these games will follow their trip to London, ensuring that the players have adequate time off before their next game to adjust to the time change and recover from the travel.

The league typically schedules the Super Bowl champion at home for the Thursday night game that kicks off the new season.

The process is challenging, and there may be no such thing as a perfect schedule, but the schedule-makers consistently provide the NFL’s fans and broadcast partners with a compelling and entertaining slate of games week after week.

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