What is the NFL Schedule Algorithm?

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The opponents for the 2019 Chiefs season came out earlier this year with some exciting games ahead: Green Bay Packers, Indianapolis Colts, and of course, the New England Patriots. That last one though, has drawn far more attention than the rest. 2019 marks the third year in a row the Chiefs travel to Gillette Stadium and everyone seems pretty tired of it.

The Patriots are good, but they shouldn’t get to stay home year after year! We know.. it seems unfair. But actually, it’s all completely fair and luck of the draw thanks to an NFL schedule algorithm released in 2002.

History of the NFL Schedule Algorithm

In 2002, the Oilers moved to Nashville and became the Tennessee Titans. Leaving Houston without a team, the city formed a squad and so began the Houston Texans.

Why is this important? Because the Texans became the 32nd NFL team in the league. It was an even divide. Therefore, each conference could split into 16 teams, with four divisions each containing four teams. Now that the NFL had a means of creating an even league, they could develop a way to fairly schedule teams. Now all teams could see enough action in the season both home and away. The algorithm ensures each team would play every team in the league within four years.

NFL Schedule algorithm
Image courtesy of the Kansas City Chiefs

What is the NFL Schedule Algorithm

With 16 teams to account for, it could be easy to let match ups fall through the cracks. But the algorithm is very explicit in who the teams play, when, and why. It takes data of each team’s past record, conference, division, past match ups and more.

The Breakdown:

  • Each team plays it’s own division both home and away (6 games per season)
  • Each division, AFC West for example, plays one other division within the same conference, AFC South in 2019, rotating every years (4 games per season)
  • Each division, AFC West for example, plays one other division within the other conference, NFC North in 2019, rotating every years (4 games per season)

So now you can see how eventually, every team matches up with every team within their own conference and their competing conference. However, we did say the NFL schedule algorithm takes into account your team’s record. And it does. This is why the Chiefs have played the Patriots away for the last three years…

Why the Chiefs Have Played at Gillette

Two games per season are based on the fact of your record. The first-place teams will play first-place teams of other divisions, second-place division teams play second-place, third-place against third-place, you get the picture.

The Chiefs won the AFC West Division in 2016, 2017 and again in 2018. The Pats have won AFC East since 2009. The two teams are destined to play each other any time they win their division.

If a first-place team is already scheduled to play a team based on the division rotations, then the algorithm takes that into account. However, the last two years, the AFC West and AFC East have not been in rotation to play. Therefore, it’s a perfect match up of first place teams to add to their schedule.

One NFL official said, “The scheduling system is not random. It is a straight rotation that ensures that over any six-or 12-year stretch, the number of home games between intra-conference teams will even out.”

The End Result

The Chiefs have been playing well. It only seems fitting they play the best teams in the league each year. After 2019, the algorithm should produce a game for the Chiefs vs the Patriots at Arrowhead. Depending on each team’s records in the future, it could be three years in a row the Pats head to KC!

The 2019 is upon us and regardless of algorithms, the Chiefs will always have their sea of red to back them up! That’s something to celebrate!

NFL Schedule algorithm
Image courtesy of Kansas City Chiefs
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