The surprising National Football League schedule secret

Every years fans scream about how tough their team's schedule is, but what many do not realize is that there really is not much flexibility. Photo: NFL ready to kick off Photo:

CHARLOTTEAugust 16, 2013  With the NFL season set to kick off in less than a month, fans are salivating for real games to get underway. Preseason is fun, but mostly that is all it is, fun.

Preseason whets the appetite waiting for the bell to ring.

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As fans prepare for four months of Sunday pigskin bliss, an early preseason ritual includes checking the home team’s schedule to determine playoff possibilities.  That is where this story gets interesting because there are things about NFL schedules most fans probably do not know.

Pay attention because this bit of trivia might be worth a few beers at your favorite pub.

Many fans believe new schedules for any season are based upon records from the previous year’s win-loss record. If a team had a strong season the year before, they should have a tougher schedule in the new season.

Conversely, teams that finished poorly are supposed to get softer schedules. And that is a myth. The truth is, discounting variables such as home and away games or which part of the season one team plays another, there are technically only two games each year for any NFL team that truly affect the strength of the schedule within their own division.

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Oddsmakers and fantasy footballers are the most likely groups to know this tidbit of football folly, but for those who do not, here it is.

NFL teams play 13 different opponents each season. In addition, the teams in a division play 14 of the 16 regular season games against the same teams as every other opponent in its own division. Contrary to popular belief, all NFL teams only play two games against opponents outside their division that the other teams in their division do not play. Furthermore, of the two floating games, opponents come from the same two divisions as the other teams in their bracket.

For example, if the Dallas Cowboys play a floating game against squads from the NFC South and the NFC West, then Washington, Philadelphia and the New York Giants also play floaters against teams from those same divisions..

Pre-game analysts rarely, if ever, talk about this and play-by-play and color commentators never mention it either. Does that mean that most people do not know it or that they just do not think it is important?

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For simplicity, let’s keep using the NFC East, but keep in mind this rule applies for every team in the National Football League.

The NFL consists of two conferences, the American Football Conference and the National Football Conference. Each conference has 16 teams made up of four divisions of four teams, North, South, East and West.

There are 16 games in a regular season, and every fan knows that each team plays the other teams in its division twice on a home and away basis. Therefore, the Cowboys play Washington, New York and Philadelphia on a home and away basis every season for a total of six games.

So what about the other 10 games? The urban legend is that those are random meetings based upon the past season performance. That assumption is far from the truth.

In 2013, the Dallas Cowboys will play games against each team in the NFC North and the AFC West. Guess what, so will the Redskins, Eagles and Giants. Therefore, teams in the NFC East will play 14 games against the same opponents. It is set in stone. There is nothing random about it.

That leaves the two floating games for the NFC East and they will come from the NFC South and the NFC West.

If this is true, and it is, why do analysts not use it more often to predict playoff possibilities at the end of the season? It seems that comparisons would be easy given individual records between one team in a division against others in another division.

It further simplifies the always blurred playoff pictures at the end of the season because there are more common opponents than most fans realize, and that is one criteria used for tie-breakers.

Maybe everyone already knows this, but if not, enjoy those beers and remember where you heard it.

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About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events and the people and cultures around the globe. He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club ( and his goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.

 His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.

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Bob Taylor

Bob Taylor has been travel writer for more than three decades. Following a career as an award winning sports producer/anchor, Taylor’s media production business produced marketing presentations for Switzerland Tourism, Rail Europe, the Finnish Tourist Board, Japan Railways Group, the Swedish Travel & Tourism Council and the Swiss Travel System among others. He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club ( and his goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.


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