Time to Change NFL Schedule System

If anyone wants to check 14 of your favorite teams 16 games for the next 30 seasons in the NFL, you can. Does that bother anyone else but me? Is it stupid for me to be annoyed that I can look up all but 2 of the Chicago Bears opponents for the 2032 season right now? How can that be, you ask? Well, for those who are not acquainted with how the NFL makes their schedule from year to year, it goes like this.

There are 32 teams that fit ever so nicely into 8 divisions. In order to show how a schedule is made each season, lets take the 2017 New England Patriots. The Patriots play teams in the AFC East (their division) TWICE in a home an home series, so that’s 6 games.

The rest of the Patriots schedule in 2017 is filled out by facing a division in their own conference (AFC) and a division in the NFC. In 2017, the AFC East plays the AFC West and NFC South. Home games and away games are determined by rotation. For example, the last time the Patriots played the AFC West as a division on their schedule was in 2014. That season they played the Raiders and Broncos at home and the Chiefs and Chargers on the road. For 2017, they switch and play the Raiders and Broncos on the road, and the Chiefs and Chargers at home. That brings the number of games played up to 10.

In 2017 the NFC division that the Patriots play is the NFC South (the other conference schedule is also done on a rotating basis). The previous time the Patriots played the NFC South in 2013, they played the Saints and Buccaneers at home and Falcons and Panthers on the road. For 2017, they play the opposite facing the Saints and Bucs on the road and the Falcons and Panthers at home. That brings the number of games played up to 14.

The final 2 games on the Patriots 2017 schedule have yet to be determined, as they are based on where the Patriots finish in their division in 2016 and how the two interconference divisions the Patriots aren’t playing (the AFC North and South) finish. For instance, if the Patriots finish first in the AFC East, they play the first place teams in the AFC North and South. If they finish 2nd in the AFC East, they play the second place teams in the AFC North and South, etc..etc…

NFL Schedule Maker
Total Games
Teams in own division TWICE 6
Interconference Division ONCE 4
Intraconference Division ONCE 4
Interconference Position from other 2 divisions 2

For those who love competitive balance, this schedule looks like a good idea. All of the teams in the same division play just about the same exact schedule minus 2 games that are left to how the team finished the season before. I certainly think its a nice and neat way to organize the leagues schedule for the next 5-30 years, but I question how much it really helps the competitive balance overall.

If you are a last place team in the AFC East (say the Jets) and you go 3-13, it’s got to be a hard revelation that the next season you are basically playing the same exact schedule as the 14-2 Patriots. How is that a good idea? Sure, in some divisions the difference between a 10-6 division winner and a 7-9 last place team isn’t that much, but how about for the example of the AFC East? An 11 game difference is pretty big in a season where only 16 games are played. So, how can we make this better for all teams and guarantee, like most of the European Soccer leagues, that success the year before means a tougher schedule the next season.

Here is my suggestion, and its pretty simple. Teams opponents the next season, outside of their division of course, are determined by the place they finish in said division. For instance, if the Colts finish 1st in the AFC South, they play their division opponents twice (6 games), each of the teams that finished first in their conference twice (6 games), and all 4 teams that finished first in the other conference (4 games). The opposite conferences will rotate on a season to season basis for what plays what division at home and on the road (AFC East winner plays at NFC East winner one year, then flips the next season).

If you think its crazy that you would play teams outside of your division twice in a season, think again. The NFL used to allow that in earlier schedule diagrams. From 1978 to 1995, the NFL, due to its unbalanced divisions with a four-time division and two five team divisions in each conference, had a 5th-place schedule where a team would play the other 5th place team in their conference twice.

With my schedule you don’t penalize the last place team by making them play a schedule equal to that of a first place team. This also creates a large number of entertaining games for every season, guaranteeing that just about each week you will see a pair of first place teams from the year before matching up against each other.

If you are a last place team this gives you a healthy chance of having a successful next season without having to worry about being overwhelmed with facing just as many playoff teams as the teams that finished 1st and 2nd in your division the year before. I never really understood why the NFL wanted to make each team in the same division basically play the same schedule. To me. that creates a much more generic NFL season.

New Schedule System
Play each team in division twice 6 games
Play each interconference division place twice* 6 games
Play each Intraconference division place once* 4 games
*Based on finish from previous season 16 games

I’m open to other suggestions. Please let me know yours.

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