Contained in the NFL schedule puzzle: Byes, Christmas, abroad journeys and Taylor Swift

by Christina S. Brown
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The NFL rolled out its 272-game masterpiece Wednesday night time in unveiling the league’s 2024 schedule, eagerly anticipated by followers and the ultimate results of thousands and thousands of permutations crunched by supercomputers to fulfill billion-dollar TV companions, maximize nationwide audiences and make 32 groups really feel like they bought a good shake.

League officers known as the method “an extremely difficult puzzle” and likened it to discovering “the perfect grain of sand on the seashore,” with almost countless choices sophisticated by the league now enjoying video games on nearly every single day of the week.

“We hold taking needles out, and the haystack is basically infinite,” mentioned Mike North, the NFL’s vp of broadcast planning, on a convention name with reporters on Thursday.

The morning after, having loved each crew’s artistic movies laying out their 2024 opponents, we take a more in-depth take a look at the nuances and difficulties not solely in creating the schedule, however for some groups, enjoying the hand dealt to them.

[2024 NFL schedule release videos: Chargers, Patriots, Cowboys among those going viral]

Daily however Tuesdays now

The NFL was once a quaint Sunday affair with a single encore on Monday night time every week. That expanded to Thursday nights in 2006. Now, the league’s video games cowl almost every single day of the week. The 2-time defending Tremendous Bowl champion Chiefs will play a sport on every single day of the week besides Tuesday this season, together with on Christmas Day, which is a Wednesday.

To wedge two Christmas video games on Netflix — Chiefs at Steelers and Ravens at Texans — into the common season, the league needed to schedule the identical 4 groups on a Saturday the week earlier than, giving them the identical quick week that groups have after they play on a Thursday after a Sunday. So on Dec. 21, the Texans are on the Chiefs and the Steelers are on the Ravens, a five-day vacation round-robin of kinds that has every crew internet hosting one sport and enjoying one on the street.

The league did not need to simply throw any crew on the largest vacation of the yr, so the 4 groups concerned have been all playoff groups final yr, and signify three of the final 4 AFC groups left in final season’s playoffs. The NFL as soon as averted Christmas, however rankings and suggestions have been sturdy final yr, so the league is now actively searching for Christmas video games, even when the day falls in the course of the week.

FOX Sports activities’ Mike Mulvihill on course of, evolution of the schedule

FOX Sports' Mike Mulvihill on process, evolution of the schedule

Sure, Taylor Swift impacted the NFL schedule

Taylor Swift’s romance with Chiefs tight finish Travis Kelce grew to become one of many largest off-field storylines of the 2023 NFL season, increasing the league’s fan base to an entire new demographic, and her wildly profitable Eras tour had an influence on the 2024 schedule.

Swift has full live performance weekends booked in three NFL venues throughout the season — at Miami on Oct. 18-20, at New Orleans Oct. 25-27 and in Indianapolis on Nov. 1-3 — so the league knew the Dolphins, Saints and Colts could be on the street these weeks.

And whereas the league says it is a coincidence, the Chiefs’ sport at Buffalo on Nov. 17 comes proper after Swift has three live shows in Toronto on Nov. 14-16, permitting followers (and maybe a sure vital different) to make the hour’s drive south for the sport.

“I noticed a number of conspiracy theories speaking about Kansas Metropolis at Buffalo, center of the season, proper when Taylor’s enjoying Toronto,” North mentioned. “That one positively didn’t hit our radar display screen.”

North conceded that the Chiefs’ reputation makes them “Cowboys-level property” for the TV companions, so giving every community a chunk of the Kansas Metropolis rankings growth was a precedence for the league.

Eric Stonestreet on Taylor Swift/Travis Kelce relationship

Eric Stonestreet on Taylor Swift/Travis Kelce relationship

Division video games more and more later

The NFL likes to avoid wasting its divisional video games for later within the yr, realizing they’re extra impactful to the playoff image and carry extra weight, so it is extra than simply Week 18 having solely divisional video games.

This yr’s slate has 50 of the 96 video games — greater than half — falling within the last seven weeks of the season, and a few groups are unusually skewed to later within the yr. The Bears and Steelers do not play a single division sport till Week 11, after which have all six divisional video games within the last eight weeks.

Different groups are oddly tilted early within the yr — the Saints have only one division sport within the last eight weeks, and the Falcons have a cluster of 4 division video games between Week 4 by 8. Three groups — the Payments, Eagles and Titans — shut out the yr with three straight division video games.

Usually, two video games in opposition to the identical division opponent are unfold out over the course of the season, however that may’t all the time be the case. There are three cases of division opponents enjoying twice in a span of three weeks: The Cardinals and Seahawks play in Week 12 and 14, as do the Browns and Steelers, and the Payments and Patriots meet in Week 16 and once more in Week 18.

The 49ers have it tough

One nuance of the NFL schedule is uneven prep time. The league calls it “unfavorable relaxation disparity” when one crew has extra days to relaxation and put together for a sport than the opposite, often a operate of a bye week or coming off a Thursday sport. Throughout the league, it evens out for everybody, however yearly, there is a crew or two that will get the quick finish.

For the second yr in a row, the 49ers have 4 video games in opposition to opponents who’re coming off their bye week, giving them an additional week to work up a sport plan for the defending NFC champs. These aren’t simple opponents both. San Francisco faces that drawback in opposition to the Chiefs in Week 7, Cowboys in Week 8, Seahawks in Week 11 and the Payments in Week 13. The Niners do get pleasure from the identical benefit as soon as, as their bye week offers them an edge in opposition to the Bucs in Week 10.

Another drawback for San Francisco: Two of its opponents will get a three-day head begin, coming off Thursday night time video games the week earlier than, with the Patriots in Week 4 and the Bears in Week 14.

The “conspiracy concept” round Jets vs. 49ers opening on MNF

The "conspiracy theory" around Jets vs. 49ers opening on MNF

Abroad journeys do not require bye weeks afterward

NFL groups enjoying video games abroad in Europe have the fitting to ask for a bye week after the lengthy journey, however some groups will waive that proper, particularly if it helps them get per week off later within the common season.

The Jaguars, Jets and Patriots will all play video games within the week instantly after a sport in Europe, however doing so offers them their byes a lot later — 4 weeks later for the Jaguars and 6 weeks later for the Jets and Patriots. 4 different groups enjoying abroad — the Vikings, Bears, Panthers and Giants — will take their bye instantly after that journey, all in Week 11 or earlier.

North mentioned groups are discovering that as a result of the Europe video games are performed at 9:30 a.m. ET, they’re in a position to return house even sooner than they’d enjoying a Sunday night time sport two or three time zones away.

[2024 NFL schedule release: Win-loss predictions, analysis for every team]

Are three straight street video games unfair?

By way of the place video games are performed, the league tries to keep away from lengthy runs to both excessive — too many house video games in a single cluster, too many street video games in a row — however some outlier streaks are inevitable.

“We speak about three-game street journeys as if it is the worst factor you might do to a crew, and I am probably not positive that is true,” North mentioned. “You play two-game street journeys on a regular basis and no person says something about them. So that you’re speaking a couple of third sport in a three-week sequence that occurs to be on the street. … We might break up any person’s three-game street journey by giving them a house sport in opposition to Kansas Metropolis or San Francisco. Is that basically higher?”

There are 4 groups in 2024 which have three straight street video games: The Payments and Browns achieve this in Weeks 4-6, the Vikings in Weeks 10-12 and the Bears in Weeks 13-15. Of these 4, three are instantly subsequent to a three-game house stand — the Bears earlier than their street journey and the Browns and Vikings after theirs.

There are six different cases of groups getting three straight at house: The Cardinals get theirs Weeks 2-4, the Falcons in Weeks 3-5, the Chargers in Weeks 10-12 and most notably the Jets, who shut out the common season with three house video games. The Rams and Saints have a four-week stretch with three house video games and a bye, giving them 35 days between street video games.

Greg Auman is FOX Sports activities’ NFC South reporter, overlaying the Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers and Saints. He’s in his tenth season overlaying the Bucs and the NFL full-time, having hung out on the Tampa Bay Instances and The Athletic. You’ll be able to comply with him on Twitter at @gregauman.

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