How 2021 NFL schedule was created with additional games for next season

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Of all the overblown NFL events, the nuttiness around the release of the schedule is particularly stunning to me. Fans have known their 2021 opponents for four months. The order of the games, plus television details—that’s all that’s left. I lost count at 33 different hosts/analysts/reporters on NFL Network and ESPN covering the schedule release Wednesday night, and that’s after CBS and FOX morning shows broke down the Week 1 schedules for each network.

The order of the games, I don’t care about. But how the sausage is made, that interests me. That’s what you’ll learn today. First, a few words about the voracious expansion of the NFL calendar.

Mark Cuban is fond of saying that NFL one day will have a day of reckoning for wanting to own every part of the year, and for being the 800-pound gorilla and crushing other sports. Could be. But I don’t see this tectonic shift of the NFL calendar over the last three decades getting tamer. How did we get here, to the point that the NFL gets boffo ratings to learn which weeks the Steelers play the Ravens?

Commissioner Pete Rozelle, in office till 1989, believed each sport had its season and didn’t mind the quietude of the NFL offseason, interrupted only by a spurt of coverage for the draft. But against the wishes of football traditionalists, Paul Tagliabue and some NFL executives like Joe Browne—particularly envious of baseball’s buzzy offseason—began to push for a more active offseason. Free agency kicked that off in 1993 (following a trial run of lesser lights, Plan B free agency, in ’89), and March came alive with football talk. The NFL Scouting Combine began to open up in the early 2000s; now it’s covered by 1,100 media annually. Media began covering the former sleepy business of Pro Days. The draft exploded, in part by Roger Goodell pushing it to be a road show, in part by making it a three-day orgy of hope. Last year, the NFL pushed the schedule-release date till after the draft, inventing another event to push. Off-season workouts have opened up more and more. And now the league is pushing for a July 27 Back To Football training-camp opening celebration for 28 of the 32 NFL teams

So the combine in February, free agency in March, the draft in April, the schedule-release in May, and players running around in shorts and T-shirts in May and June, camp opening in late July. Coverage City.

Kansas City Chiefs v Green Bay Packers
Patrick Mahomes vs. Aaron Rodgers? Chiefs-Packers is on the 2021 schedule in Week 9. (Getty Images)

“A new idea—even a brilliant one—is just that, and only that, unless the league has the ability to promote it and have it reach its full potential,” Browne wrote in an email to me. Browne retired from the league in 2016 as the EVP of Communications and Government Affairs. He was the longest-serving employee (50 years) in NFL history. “That’s where the cooperation among the league office, 32 clubs, NFL.com, NFL Network plus the league’s partnerships with the networks and digital and social entities enable these ideas to be carried widely and successfully to NFL fans. It doesn’t hurt that pro football stars as number one in fan interest by a wide margin.”

It doesn’t hurt that fans have become schedule nerds, waiting intently for Schedule 102,844.

“This year,” Katz said, “was a little tricky because we weren’t sure when we began the process whether we were going to play a 16-game, 17-week schedule or 17-game, 18-week schedule. We decided we would start by building the 17-game schedule, because it was new and . . . we wanted to see what the pitfalls were. Right around the Super Bowl, we meet with all our broadcast partners. CBS and FOX basically tell us the games that they most want to keep on their [Sunday afternoon] schedule and NBC and ESPN give us the games that they would like to see on their [Sunday night and Monday night] schedule. Generally, those lists are pretty similar. Our challenge is really how we split the baby and how we allocate all of the top games . . . And then we just start running simulations and running over and over and over again.

“The definition of insanity’s doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result? That’s exactly what we do. Every day, Mike creates new seeds based on what we’ve seen and want to see. Then he puts those into the computer. The computer runs, spits things out. What the computer’s trying to do is solve our puzzle with the framework that we give it.”

What helped: Once the 17th game per team was official in late March, it added 16 games to be spread wherever the NFL wanted to put them. Instead of, say, FOX owning the games because they were all games with NFC teams as visitors, the NFL told broadcast partners that every game was a free agent. Thus, for example, Dallas at New England went to CBS, Green Bay at Kansas City stayed with FOX, Seattle at Pittsburgh went to NBC. That addition of some good extra matchups beefed up the Key Games Chart, the collection of all Sunday night, Monday night and Thursday games, special games (Thanksgiving Day, Christmas doubleheader) and CBS and FOX doubleheader games.

The major mileposts on the road to Schedule 102,844:

• The Green Bay dilemma. Once Adam Schefter reported April 29 on Aaron Rodgers’ desire to play elsewhere, the schedule team had 13 days to determine whether to wean the league off any of Green Bay’s five prime-time games, and several more as key doubleheaders games for FOX and CBS. “That got us a little nervous,” Katz told me. Katz asked around for inside info, but the story was so cloudy. No one knows Rodgers’ fate. I doubt even he does. When I saw the schedule, among everything, this jumped out at me:

Week 1: Green Bay at New Orleans, Sunday, FOX doubleheader.
Week 2: Detroit at Green Bay, Monday, ESPN.
Week 3: Green Bay at San Francisco, Sunday night, NBC.
Week 4: Pittsburgh at Green Bay, Sunday, CBS doubleheader.
Week 14: Chicago at Green Bay, Sunday night, NBC.
Week 17: Minnesota at Green Bay, Sunday night, NBC.

I said to Katz and North this looked pretty well-designed. Each network gets a piece of the Packers in the first four weeks, when they’re a fascinating story, with or without Rodgers. And those last two games—NBC has flex scheduling from Weeks 11 to 17. If the Packers are 4-8 with struggling Jordan Love at QB when that Bears game come up, the league could switch to Buffalo at Tampa, or Baltimore at Cleveland. Ditto Week 17, when Vegas-Indy or Miami-Tennessee could be plugged in.

After the Rodgers report, Katz said, “The Green Bay Packers are still the Green Bay Packers, with or without Aaron Rodgers. They’re a great team and a great brand. We started to think about some of the permutations of the schedule. Ultimately, when he didn’t get traded, we couldn’t solve for something we didn’t know. It was pretty deliberate the way we maxed out the Packers early in the season. You’re right that each of the networks has their bite at the Packers in the first month. That was deliberate.”

• “Aaron Rodgers” at Patrick Mahomes. The second-best matchup of the regular season might be the 72nd-best matchup if it’s Jordan Love or Blake Bortles at Mahomes. But the NFL is gambling, and FOX is praying, that the Pack and Rodgers do not get divorced. For a while in the scheduling process, this game was nestled as a FOX doubleheader game on Christmas weekend (Sunday, Dec. 26). But Katz thought it was too late. What if either team had clinched a playoff spot and might not play its full team for the full game? What if either team was out of contention by then? So it got moved to Week 9, the FOX doubleheader game on Nov. 7.

• The TomBill Bowl. NBC got the Week 4 mega-game—Bucs at Patriots in Tom Brady’s return to New England on Sunday night, Oct. 3. This was the game every network wanted badly, and NBC won it. “The only one we’ve ever done that I could compare it to was our first game—the Manning Bowl,” said Fred Gaudelli, the executive producer of Sunday Night Football on NBC since its inception in 2006. In Week 1 2006, NBC debuted its Sunday night package with Peyton’s Colts versus Eli’s Giants. “Such tremendous interest in that game. And this year, Tampa Bay-New England will be a story that transcends sports for the week before the game. It’s the game of the year, certainly. It might be the game of many, many years.”

I was interested in how early it’s falling. I thought the league might want the buildup to last for weeks into the season. But I get why they did it. Brady turns 44 in August, and he’s coming off off-season knee surgery, and at some point, isn’t it logical to think that a man of a certain football age won’t last a full 17 games? Plus, it’s logical to wonder if the Patriots’ 2020 struggles continue into this year. Playing it early is a hedge against the Patriots’ record, and a hedge against an old quarterback’s health.

“Each network lobbied for that game,” Katz said. “They lobbied hard. We played with that game at various stages of our schedule in different places. That game was not always on the Sunday night schedule . . . I would say by the latter part of April, we were pretty locked on the general format for the schedule and that game on Sunday night and the Green Bay-Kansas City game being as a FOX doubleheader.”

North said putting the game in Week 4 “is less about whether these teams are fighting for division races, playoff implications, less likely to have an injury, less likely to have weather. The story can be about Brady’s return. It would be different if Tom’s standing on the 50-yard line watching a tribute video in November in six inches of snow. Or, the later in the season we go, the more likely somebody’s injured. Getting in early, having that story told, made some sense.”

• Fixing some road issues. In 2017, the schedule had seven teams with three-game road trips; this year, there are three. In 2017, five teams followed road Monday games with road Sunday games; this year, there’s one (Miami, Weeks 16, 17: at New Orleans on Monday, at Tennessee on Sunday). Back to what got fixed in travel disparity in Schedule 102,844.

Instead of Minnesota traveling to San Francisco and Arizona in Weeks 1 and 2, the league shifted Week 1 to Cincinnati, saving the Vikings three hours of travel time round-trip in the first week.

Instead of the Las Vegas-Baltimore-New Jersey road trip for Cincinnati, the league subbed Detroit for Vegas, and moved Cincinnati’s trip to Nevada to Week 11. That saves the Bengals five hours, total, of travel time in the first weekend of the three.

Instead of the Titans playing at Seattle and at the Rams in Weeks 8 and 9, now it’s Indianapolis and Los Angeles trips back to back. Nashville to Indy: 55 minutes of flight time. Nashville to L.A.: four hours, 15 minutes.

But fixing the Denver issue of two long trips to start the season couldn’t be fixed without creating bigger problems. Who knows? If Carey gave the computers more time, it’s possible a shorter trip could have been subbed for one of these. But this crew, collectively, has more than 70 years of schedule-making experience, and they doubted they’d be able to find a Denver solution. In the end, the league could fix most things, but not everything.

• A weird bye story. Four teams play in London this year—Jets-Atlanta Oct. 10, Miami-Jacksonville Oct. 17, both at 9:30 a.m. ET. The Jets, Falcons and Jags have byes following the games. The Dolphins don’t. They return from London to play a 1 p.m. home game with Atlanta the next week.

Turns out Miami asked to not have its bye the week following the London game. The Dolphins wanted a later bye … and though the Week 14 bye means they play their first 13 games without a break, I still think it’s better to have the bye much later than Week 7. Plus there’s this: It’s likely, barring travel snafus, that the Dolphins will get back from the London game by about 1:15 a.m. Monday. Miami plays at Las Vegas in Week 3, a 4:05 p.m. ET game. Barring travel snafus there too, the Dolphins should return to south Florida about 1:45 a.m. So Miami’s reasoning, I’m sure, was, Let’s not blow our bye early, especially when the London game is just like coming home from a West Coast game.

“Philly was in the mix to go with Atlanta to London,” North said. “They were more than willing to take a home game after London. Most of these teams now have been to London. Everybody’s really kind of figured it out.”

No byes till Week 6. That’s the first time since the league started giving byes that the weeks off have started that late. Teams just hate the early byes. “Don’t forget,” North said. “Tampa had a Week 13 bye last year. Everybody got healthy. They didn’t lose again.”


Regarding the social byproducts of the schedule release: Teams now use the schedule release to get cute on social media. The competition there is intense too. The Cowboys this year engaged Post Malone—Dak Prescott’s favorite artist—to make a schedule-release video with Jerry Jones. Denver got summer intern Peyton Manning to receive the schedule and print it out for the organization. And so forth.

Well, the Broncos may not be the prime-time darlings they once were, but their social team wins. As of 3 p.m. ET Sunday, the Manning video ranked first in the NFL in total views with 1.96 million. On Twitter, the Manning video was beating Post Malone, 674,000 to 666,000.

For better or worse, this is not Pete Rozelle’s NFL.

Read more from Peter King’s Football Morning in America column.

2022 NFL Playoff Picture Week 13: Standings, clinching scenarios ahead of Colts vs Cowboys on SNF

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Week 13 on Sunday Night Football features a showdown between Matt Ryan and the Indianapolis Colts (4-7-1) and Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys (8-3) at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Live coverage begins at 7:00 p.m. ET with Football Night in America on NBC and Peacock. December is here and Week 13 means that we’re officially thinking about the NFL playoff picture, and who will be in contention for a spot in Super Bowl LVII in Glendale, Arizona, this February. Here’s how things stand in the playoff picture heading into the weekend:

RELATED: FMIA Week 12 – Josh Jacobs Takes Heckling Personally, And A Banner Week For Two-Point Conversion Risks

Where do the Colts and Cowboys stand in the 2022 NFL Playoff Picture ahead of Week 13?

Indianapolis Colts:

The Colts entered this season expecting to contend for the AFC South but with 5 losses in the last 6 games, Indianapolis is in danger of missing the postseason for the second straight year. Offensive struggles have been a resounding theme in Indianapolis all season long and contributed to the firing of head coach Frank Reich just nine games into the season. Jeff Saturday, a former Colts center with no professional or college coaching experience prior to this year, was Reich’s replacement and is currently 1-2 in the new role. The Colts enter Week 13 three games behind the AFC South-leading Titans.

RELATED: Trevon Diggs, Michael Gallup miss practice with an illness

Dallas Cowboys:

It’s a completely different story for the Dallas Cowboys who are coming off back-to-back wins over the Minnesota Vikings and the New York Giants, both NFC contenders. Dallas looks to become the first team to win consecutive division titles in the NFC East since 2001-2004 but sits 2 games behind the powerhouse Philadelphia Eagles for the best record in the NFC East entering Week 13.

See below for the 2022 NFL playoff clinching scenarios and standings for Week 13 as well as additional information on how to watch and live stream this week’s Colts vs Cowboys match-up.

RELATED: How to watch Colts vs Cowboys  – TV/Live Stream info for Sunday night’s game

2022 NFL Playoff Clinching Scenarios for Week 13:

Minnesota Vikings (9-2) vs. NY Jets (7-4) – Sunday, December 4 (1:00 PM ET)

The Minnesota Vikings can clinch the NFC North division title this Sunday with the following:

  • A win against the NY Jets AND a Detroit Lions loss against the Jaguars

OR

  • A tie against the NY Jets AND a Detroit Lions loss against the Jaguars

Philadelphia Eagles (10-1) vs Tennessee Titans (7-4) – Sunday, December 4 (1:00 PM ET)

The Philadelphia Eagles can clinch a playoff berth with the following:

  • A win against the Titans AND a Washington Commanders loss to the Giants AND a 49ers loss/tie to the Dolphins AND a Seahawks loss/tie to the Rams

OR

  • A win against the Titans AND a Washington Commanders tie with the Giants AND a 49ers loss to the Dolphins AND a Seahawks loss to the Rams

RELATED: PFT’s Week 13 2022 NFL power rankings

AFC Standings – Week 13

  1. Kansas City Chiefs (9-2)
  2. Buffalo Bills (9-3)
  3. Tennessee Titans (7-4)
  4. Baltimore Ravens (7-4)
  5. Miami Dolphins (8-3)
  6. Cincinnati Bengals (7-4)
  7. New York Jets (7-4)

In the Hunt:
Los Angeles Chargers (6-5)
New England Patriots (6-6)
Indianapolis Colts (4-7-1)

NFC Standings – Week 13

  1. Philadelphia Eagles (10-1)
  2. Minnesota Vikings (9-2)
  3. San Francisco 49ers (7-4)
  4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-6)
  5. Dallas Cowboys (8-3)
  6. NY Giants (7-4)
  7. Washington Commanders (7-5)

In the Hunt:
Seattle Seahawks (6-5)
Atlanta Falcons (5-7)
Detroit Lions (4-7)


How to watch the Indianapolis Colts vs Dallas Cowboys:

  • Where: AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas
  • When: Sunday, December 4
  • Start Time: 8:20 p.m. ET; live coverage begins at 7:00 p.m. ET with Football Night In America
  • TV Channel: NBC
  • Stream liveWatch live on Peacock or with the NBC Sports App

What time is kickoff for the Indianapolis Colts vs Dallas Cowboys Game?

Kickoff is at 8:20 p.m. ET.

RELATED: 2022 Sunday Night Football Schedule: TV channel, live stream info, NFL schedule

For all your tailgating needs for the 2022 Fall season, click here!

Football Night in America will feature a weekly segment hosted by former NFL quarterback Chris Simms and sports betting and fantasy pioneer Matthew Berry, which highlights storylines and betting odds for the upcoming Sunday Night Football game on NBC, Peacock, and Universo. Real-time betting odds on the scoring ticker during FNIA also will be showcased. Peacock Sunday Night Football Final, an NFL postgame show produced by NBC Sports, will also go deep on the storylines and BetMGM betting lines that proved prominent during the matchup.


How to watch Sunday Night Football on Peacock:

If you have access to NBC via your TV provider, you can watch Sunday Night Football on your TV or with a TV provider login on the NBC Sports app, NBC app, or via NBCSports.com. Check your local listings to find your NBC channel. If you can’t find NBC in your channel lineup, please contact your TV provider.

RELATED: What to know about Super Bowl 2023 – Date, location, halftime performance info, and much more

If you don’t have access to NBC via your TV provider, you can stream Sunday Night Football on Peacock with a $4.99/month Peacock Premium plan.  Sign up here or, if you already have a free Peacock account, go to your Account settings to upgrade or change your existing plan. 

Please note that selection of a Premium plan will result in a charge which will recur on a monthly or annual basis until you cancel, depending on your plan. You can cancel your Premium plan at any time in your Account.

RELATED: 2022 NFL Regular Season Schedule – How to Watch, Live Stream, Dates, Times, Matchups


 Follow along with ProFootballTalk for the latest news, storylines, and updates surrounding the 2022 NFL Season, and be sure to subscribe to NFLonNBC on YouTube!

How to watch Indianapolis Colts vs Dallas Cowboys: TV, live stream info for Sunday night’s game

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It’s the Indianapolis Colts vs Dallas Cowboys this Sunday night at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Live coverage begins at 7:00 p.m. ET on NBC and Peacock with Football Night in America. See below for additional information on how to watch tonight’s game.

RELATED: FMIA Week 12 – Josh Jacobs Takes Heckling Personally, And A Banner Week For Two-Point Conversion Risks

Indianapolis Colts

Matt Ryan and the Indianapolis Colts fell 24-17 to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday night in their 7th loss of the season and 2nd loss under interim head coach Jeff Saturday. Saturday, a former Colts center with no professional or college coaching experience prior to this season, took over after the Colts fired Frank Reich ahead of Week 10. Reich spent 5 seasons with the Colts, reaching the playoffs just twice (2018, 2020) and finishing with a 40-33-1 record in the regular season. Indianapolis’ offensive struggles have continued this season after ranking 10th in scoring last season at 26.5 points per game. Entering Week 13, the Colts are averaging 15.8 points per game–they’re tied with the Texans who are ranked 31st in the league. Ryan went 22-of-34 for 199 yards with a touchdown and an interception in Monday night’s loss. RB Jonathan Taylor rushed for 86 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries.

RELATED: Jeff Saturday on not using timeouts – “I thought we had plenty of time”

Dallas Cowboys

Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys completed the season series sweep with a 28-20 win over the New York Giants last Thursday evening. Prescott finished 21-of-30 for 261 passing yards with 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. RB Ezekiel Elliot, who was playing in his second game since returning from a knee injury, rushed for a season-high 92 yards and ignited the Cowboys’ offense scoring the first touchdown of the game. On defense, the Cowboys had 3 sacks–two of them were from OLB Micah Parsons who ranks 2nd in the league with 12 sacks this season. Dallas currently has one of the best defenses in the NFL and leads all teams with 45 sacks this season. The Cowboys have won 4 of their last 5 games and enter Week 13 just two games behind Jalen Hurts and the Philadelphia Eagles for the NFC East lead.

RELATED: Dak Prescott – I am as confident as I can be in this team


How to watch the Indianapolis Colts vs Dallas Cowboys:

  • Where: AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas
  • When: Sunday, December 4
  • Start Time: 8:20 p.m. ET; live coverage begins at 7:00 p.m. ET with Football Night In America
  • TV Channel: NBC
  • Stream liveWatch live on Peacock or with the NBC Sports App

What time is kickoff for the Indianapolis Colts vs Dallas Cowboys Game

Kickoff is at 8:20 p.m. ET.

RELATED: 2022 Sunday Night Football Schedule: TV channel, live stream info, NFL schedule

For all your tailgating needs for the 2022 Fall season, click here!

Football Night in America will feature a weekly segment hosted by former NFL quarterback Chris Simms and sports betting and fantasy pioneer Matthew Berry, which highlights storylines and betting odds for the upcoming Sunday Night Football game on NBC, Peacock, and Universo. Real-time betting odds on the scoring ticker during FNIA also will be showcased. Peacock Sunday Night Football Final, an NFL postgame show produced by NBC Sports, will also go deep on the storylines and BetMGM betting lines that proved prominent during the matchup.

RELATED: 2022 NFL Playoff Picture Week 13 – Standings, clinching scenarios ahead of Colts vs Cowboys on SNF


How to watch Sunday Night Football on Peacock:

If you have access to NBC via your TV provider, you can watch Sunday Night Football on your TV or with a TV provider login on the NBC Sports app, NBC app, or via NBCSports.com. Check your local listings to find your NBC channel. If you can’t find NBC in your channel lineup, please contact your TV provider.

RELATED: What to know about Super Bowl 2023 – Date, location, halftime performance info, and much more

If you don’t have access to NBC via your TV provider, you can stream Sunday Night Football on Peacock with a $4.99/month Peacock Premium plan.  Sign up here or, if you already have a free Peacock account, go to your Account settings to upgrade or change your existing plan. 

Please note that selection of a Premium plan will result in a charge which will recur on a monthly or annual basis until you cancel, depending on your plan. You can cancel your Premium plan at any time in your Account.

RELATED: 2022 NFL Regular Season Schedule – How to Watch, Live Stream, Dates, Times, Matchups


 Follow along with ProFootballTalk for the latest news, storylines, and updates surrounding the 2022 NFL Season, and be sure to subscribe to NFLonNBC on YouTube!