The NFL 2021-2022 Schedule Explained, Sort Of

AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

The NFL released its 2021-2022 schedule Wednesday. Although given how this is strictly the “when” portion of the proceedings (as the who and where have been known since the end of last season), it’s still manna for football junkies. For those who aren’t yet football junkies, but who are football curious, here’s a basic explainer.

The NFL schedule, as far as who plays who and where, is semi-simple to deduce. There are 32 teams divided equally into two conferences, and each conference divided equally into four divisions. Each team plays all the other teams in its conference twice, once at home and once at the other team’s home. So there are six games.

Next, each team in a division plays all the teams in two other divisions, one in its conference and once in the other conference, once. That’s eight more games. Which team is the home team rotates; if last time the Podunk Peachfuzz and the Greencastle Grumblers played under this arrangement Podunk was the home team, this time it will be Greencastle’s turn to host the festivities.

Eight plus six equals fourteen, presumably even when using Common Core math. Once upon a time, there were only fourteen games in the regular NFL season, so this system would have been hunky-dory. However, the league decided to have sixteen regular-season games. What to do?

Here’s where the fun starts. The other two opponents are teams within the same conference, that are in the divisions a team is not already playing, that finished in the same spot in the standings last year. If, say, Podunk finished third in its division, along with Bumbleton and Pumpernickel in the other two divisions in that particular conference, then each team would play each other, with the home team being determined (again) on a rotational basis.

But now we have a seventeen game season, so … *takes a deep breath* This game will have each team play the team in the other conference that finished in the same place in the standings last year AND is neither in the division that played each another last year nor the division that will play each other next year.

Now, this whole scenario is known the moment the regular season is done. In fact, the list of who plays who comes out before the playoffs start, as all it takes is a glance at the standings and the past couple of seasons to know whose turn it is to play whom. The only remaining question is when.

The latter is determined by a group of people at NFL headquarters, who factor in such elements as potential player matchups (for example, two high profile quarterbacks), traditional rivalries, a team’s national appeal, recent success or lack thereof, and whichever direction the Ouija board pointer indicates, spreading this out throughout each week of the season so hopefully there will be at least one if not more games most likely to draw even the more casual football fans. Also, the league wants its prime time games, order of importance being Sunday night, then Monday night, then Thursday night, to have the most attractive matchups possible without always scheduling the best games for these time slots lest FOX and CBS, who televise the Sunday day games, get stuck with nothing but a roster of turkeys when it’s nowhere near to Thanksgiving. Tom Brady and the Buccaneers are playing in New England this season? Oh, you bet that will be that week’s Sunday night game. Detroit versus Cincinnati, not so much.

And so, in a very large nutshell, here is an explanation of the NFL schedule. With basketball and hockey playoffs starting in a few days, and the baseball season settling into its proper groove, football is theoretically on the back burner. However, rest assured we’ll circle back to it far quicker than Jen Psaki does on any given topic during a press briefing. And one final note: on September 19th, the second week of the season, the Indianapolis Colts will be hosting the Los Angeles Rams. I hope I can find a way to get from California to Indiana that weekend. There are reasons.