How does the NFL schedule work?

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Planning the NFL schedule starts as soon as the previous season ends, with countless hours poured into the process throughout spring and summer. Howard Katz, Senior Vice President of Broadcasting is the man who leads a team that carefully plots out each of the 272 fixtures.

There are so many factors to consider when building out the schedule, including travel and broadcasting, external events at host stadiums, as well as internal events like bye weeks, overseas games, and the different fixture cycles. The official NFL Football Operations website claims that thousands of cloud-based computers are used to churn out thousands of possible schedules.

The season always kicks off with the Super Bowl champions playing at home on a Thursday night. The remaining fixtures are played on the Sunday, with one held back for Monday Night Football. This pattern remains the same throughout the entire season, apart from Thanksgiving weekend where three Thursday night games are played. Closer to the time, the league will also schedule games on Saturday during weeks 15, 16, and 18.

To decide the fixtures throughout the season, there are now five fixture sequences that each team will play out to make up the 17 games. Each team will:

  • Play the three other teams in their division, home and away. (six games)
  • Play each team in another division in the same conference. (four games; two home, two away)
  • Play each team in another division in the opposite conference. (four games; two home, two away)
  • Play one team from each of the remaining two divisions in the same conference, based on last season's standings. (two games)
  • Play one team from one of the remaining divisions in the opposite conference, based on last season's standings. (one game)

2021 NFL schedule changes

The 2021 season sees the first major change to the NFL regular season schedule since 1978; for the first time, each of the 32 teams will play 17 games regular season games.

The extra fixture, which won't affect any bye weeks, will be an interconference game based on the previous season's standings. Teams who finished first in their division will play the first-place team in the division which they are not scheduled to play, in the opposite conference.

For this season, AFC divisions will play the 17th fixture at home. Next year NFC will host the game and it will continue to rotate on a one-year cycle. Below is the full schedule for the extra interconference game in 2021

NFC East vs AFC East
  • Washington Football Team @ Buffalo Bills
  • New York Giants @ Miami Dolphins
  • Dallas Cowboys @ New England Patriots
  • Philadelphia Eagles @ New York Jets
NFC South vs AFC South
  • Green Bay Packers @ Kansas City Chiefs
  • Chicago Bears @ Las Vegas Raiders
  • Minnesota Vikings @ Los Angeles
  • Chargers Detroit Lions @ Denver Broncos
NFC West vs AFC North
  • New Orleans Saints @ Tennessee Titans
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Indianapolis Colts
  • Carolina Panthers @ Houston Texans
  • Atlanta Falcons @ Jacksonville Jaguars
NFC North vs AFC West
  • Seattle Seahawks @ Pittsburgh Steelers
  • Los Angeles Rams @ Baltimore Ravens
  • Arizona Cardinals @ Cleveland Browns
  • San Francisco 49ers @ Cincinnati Bengals
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How to watch NFL games

With broadcasting rights having such a huge influence on the annual schedule for the NFL, it's only right that the coverage keeps improving. On Sundays, the early games start at 1:00 p.m ET and the later games start at 4:05 p.m ET or 4:25 p.m ET.

Two networks cover the Sunday games, with Fox taking the NFC road teams and CBS covering the AFC road teams. The season will kick off with doubleheaders on both channels, which is how the season will end too on week 18. Throughout the season, Fox and CBS will also get eight doubleheaders, meaning on those weeks they will air games in both of the later Sunday afternoon slots. A network can have no more than two consecutive weeks with doubleheaders.

Notable Dates for 2021 NFL Season

Event Fixture Date Venue
Tom Brady's return to the Patriots as Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ New England Patriots October 4th 2021 Gillette Stadium
NFL London Series New York Jets vs. Atlanta Falcons October 10th 2021 Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
NFL London Series Miami Dolphins vs. Jacksonville Jaguars October 17th 2021 Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
Aaron Rodgers faces off against Patrick Mahomes Green Bay Packers @ Kansas City Chiefs November 7th 2021 Arrowhead Stadium
Thanksgiving Fixtures Chicago Bears @ Detroit Lions Las Vegas Raiders @ Dallas Cowboys Buffalo Bills @ New Orleans Saints November 25th 2021 Ford Field AT&T Stadium Mercedes-Benz Superdome
NFL Wild Card Round TBC January 15th 2022 TBC
NFL Divisional Round TBC January 22nd 2022 TBC
Conference Championships TBC January 30th 2022 TBC
Pro Bowl TBC February 6th 2022 Allegiant Stadium
Super Bowl TBC February 13th 2022 Hard Rock Stadium

Using the NFL Schedule with your bets

When betting on the NFL regular season, there are many ways you can use the schedule to your advantage. From keeping tabs on the live scores for your in-play bets, jumping on the early betting lines to use your edge, or maybe analyzing a schedule to plot future bets, the schedule offers so much more than simply when a game is happening. Below are our top ways to use the 2021 NFL schedule for your bets this year:

Futures Bets

Once the schedule has been announced for the season, you'll be able to analyze the strength of schedule for each team. This is the quickest way to see which team has the best chance of success throughout the season, purely based on how their fixtures stack up; scheduling in the NFL is designed to be fair for every franchise, but there are natural tough periods which they'll all face.

Futures bets don't just have to be made at the very start of the season, nor do they have to be on a team to win their division, make the Playoffs, or win the Super Bowl. Totals bets are available for teams for the season, where you bet on how many wins a team might get or not. Betting the over is always more popular, but if you can use the schedule to find an opportunity to bet the under, you'll definitely find more value.

Home advantage?

With stadiums packed out again following the pandemic, the full advantage of playing at home is back. This season, AFC teams have an extra home game due to the new 17-game schedule, but home advantage is on the decline.

Reflected in the point spreads from last season, bookmakers aren't adding so much weight to the home team anymore, with the stronger indicator of success coming from quality and form. So while it could all change with the influx of fans again this season, don't let it rule your decisions when betting on the NFL.

Travel and Timings

While no team will be asked to play Monday and Thursday in the same week, the NFL travel schedule can be quite intense. In 2020, the Seattle Seahawks traveled 6,000 miles further than any other team during the season, amounting to an enormous 28,982 miles in total. In the past six seasons, the team that traveled the least miles averaged five wins more during the season than the most traveled team that year.

When looking at the schedule for your weekly bets, look at each team's previous and next fixture. If a team has two away games in a row, with thousands of miles to travel to each, then perhaps you can count on some mental fatigue to play a role in the scoreline.

Bye Weeks

All bye weeks in the 2021/22 season will fall between weeks 6 and 14. Any fixture following a bye week for either team will see an edge given to the rested team. Analyze betting trends around records both before and after a bye week; Detroit Lions have the best regular season record following a bye week of 8-2-0.

FAQs

When does the NFL Season Start?

The 2021/22 NFL season began on September 9th and will run until January 9th 2022. From the following weekend, the NFL Playoffs will take over our screens in the lead-up to the Super Bowl.

Is there an NFL game tonight?

If you're looking to bet on an NFL game tonight, check out our NFL schedule today to see upcoming fixtures as well as live scores.

How many games in the NFL season?

The 2021/22 NFL season will feature 272 regular season games, followed by 13 postseason games. This is due to the new scheduling changes which mean each team now plays 17 regular season games.

What is the NFL schedule for today?

To see a list of all teams playing today, tomorrow, or throughout the season, simply use our schedule on the page. All fixtures in the NFL are played either on Thursday, Sunday, or Monday.

What’s the score of the NFL game?

For all live scores across both conferences in the NFL, head back up this page to our live scores section. Here you'll find not only the scores but also key information on the matchup.

What was the score of the NFL game last night?

Missed last night's action and want to know the results? Whether it's week 1 or week 18, you can see all previous scores from the NFC and AFC with our NFL Results feature.