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Producing the NFL schedule a long, hard task

Indianapolis Colts v New Orleans Saints Getty Images

The release of the 2012 NFL regular season schedule is met with great anticipation by some fans, but it’s met with a shrug by others, who wonder why it’s such a big deal that the league is announcing the dates of games, even though we’ve all known all year which teams are playing each other, we just haven’t known when.

But for those who wonder how big a deal it really is, Judy Battista of the New York Times has a good writeup of the Herculean effort undertaken by Howard Katz, the NFL’s scheduling czar, who has a computer spit out a number of potential schedules but then has to painstakingly go through all the potential scenarios, looking for pitfalls that could cause problems.

The problems can be significant, because NBC, CBS, FOX and ESPN all want as many games as they can get featuring the teams that draw the biggest ratings, and each NFL team has its own ideas about what constitutes an acceptable schedule. There’s really no way to placate all 32 teams, and Katz knows that when the final schedule comes out he’s going to have some teams mad at him, but he tries to choose the final schedule that’s most fair to the most teams.

A few considerations include: Every team gets a Thursday game, but teams don’t want long road trips to their Thursday games. And teams don’t want long road trips the Sunday after a Monday night game, either. Teams don’t want to play three road games in a row. The Florida teams don’t like hosting early afternoon games in September, as some of the locals won’t buy tickets if they’re going to have to bake in the sun all afternoon. The New York teams don’t like playing during the Jewish holidays. And so on.

Katz tries to set the schedule up so that the biggest and best games will be in the best spots on the schedule to be enjoyed by the most fans possible, but it’s impossible to know for sure in April how the league is going to look once the regular season gets underway. For instance, last year, when the NFL decided for the first time to have a prime time Sunday night game head-to-head with the World Series, Katz thought he had chosen the perfect game: Colts at Saints. Both teams should be near the top of the standings, Peyton Manning vs. Drew Brees was guaranteed to be a ratings draw, and Indianapolis and New Orleans are among the NFL markets that don’t have Major League Baseball teams, so there was no concern that the teams could be overshadowed by baseball in their home markets. As it turned out, Manning wasn’t playing, the Colts were winless, and it was the most lopsided game of the season, a 62-7 Saints win. (This year, Katz once again scheduled Manning’s team, the Broncos, against the Saints for Sunday Night Football to go head-to-head against the World Series.)

The job of putting the schedule together also requires an appreciation of NFL history. If Saints quarterback Drew Brees throws a touchdown pass in each of the Saints’ first five games, he’ll break one of the NFL’s oldest records, Johnny Unitas’s 47 straight games with a touchdown pass. So the Saints’ fifth game is on Sunday Night Football.

Putting the schedule together isn’t easy, but the reviews this year seem to be mostly positive. Katz can take a bow.

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41 Responses to “Producing the NFL schedule a long, hard task”
  1. veerapan88 says: Apr 19, 2012 12:20 PM

    THAT’S WHAT SHE-nevermind.

  2. hashsview says: Apr 19, 2012 12:22 PM

    I don’t think the sun has anything to do with Florida teams having trouble putting fans in the seats. Maybe the low numbers in the W column would be a good starting point….

  3. osubrndn says: Apr 19, 2012 12:23 PM

    i’m a soft engineer. This is just over hyped. It isn’t that difficult to incorperate a lcp and constraints.

  4. robf2010 says: Apr 19, 2012 12:24 PM

    I agree. Take a bow.

  5. coutre says: Apr 19, 2012 12:28 PM

    The schedule starts w/the New Jersey Giants and Jets. They can’t play at the same time, even though SF and Oakland can, and Baltimore and Washington. Plus they can rarely play at home the same weekend. Maybe once a year.
    So the schedule revolves around them. Another advantage for those two teams…

  6. buddybowl69 says: Apr 19, 2012 12:29 PM

    At least making the schedule for the Patriots was easy. Make the games in the middle of their schedule as easy as possible and finish up the year with all home games. Talk about FAVORITISM.

  7. sin101 says: Apr 19, 2012 12:30 PM

    boo,they get paid too

  8. eaglesstats says: Apr 19, 2012 12:31 PM

    I made the fake schedule, so I doubt you’ll post this comment, but I’ll try anyway.

    Making any feasible schedule is somewhat comparable to one huge sudoku game. Attempting to change any one game often requires shifting countless other games. Then you have to take into account sharing markets with MLB Sundays (parking lots) and other NFL teams (Giants/Jets, and Raiders/49ers).

    At first, I absolutely loved this schedule. But after looking at it more, there are 3 things that really stick out to me.
    1. Steelers and Colts having a bye in Week 4? If I was a fan/player of either team, I’d be livid.
    2. There are 3 cases where divisional teams play twice in the span of 15 days. (and people tore apart my schedule when I had a rematch within 22 days).
    3. And this may be a homer complaint, but the Eagles have to play a team coming off their bye week FOUR times this year, and also have to play the Cowboys when they’re on extra rest (Cowboys have the Thanksgiving game, Eagles have the MNF game )

    But as I saw, it can’t be ideal for every franchise. And while this is a great schedule, it’s far from perfect.

  9. godofwine330 says: Apr 19, 2012 12:36 PM

    Sirius Radio heads heard Eddie from New York complaining for the past 2 days about the Rams’ schedule.

    I don’t have a problem with my Browns’ schedule. Until they start winning consistently I don’t have much to say and neither should Eddie. Howard Katz’ job has more people mad at him than a weather man.

  10. yssupasigninnamnotyep says: Apr 19, 2012 12:37 PM

    They need to change the 10am start times for West coast teams traveling to the East coast. It’s just not fair to those teams…East coast teams going West get an even later start for their body clocks to adjust.

    But it will never happen…East coast bias as always.

  11. trefkennedy says: Apr 19, 2012 12:41 PM

    Well if thats the case then why every December #TeamCowboys are consistently getting screwed over?

  12. ninerrob52 says: Apr 19, 2012 12:41 PM

    Katz has been killing it these past 3 years. Remember 2010, the final week of the season was a playoff bonanza.

  13. boltfansmith says: Apr 19, 2012 12:41 PM

    Isn’t there an app for that?

  14. canetic says: Apr 19, 2012 12:44 PM

    I wish the only concern in my job was putting together an NFL schedule. I have tasks involving the same level of complexities, but instead of having to do them once a year, I do them 50 times a year. It’s called work for a reason. Let’s not elevate the guy to sainthood for having to put some effort into his job.

  15. eaglesstats says: Apr 19, 2012 12:48 PM

    And I just broke it down more:
    Eagles have to play 4 teams coming off their bye week.
    Falcons have 3 games like that too.
    Cowboys, Packers, Lions, Bills, Browns, and Raiders all have 2.
    13 teams have 1 game like that (which should be the average)
    And 11 teams don’t have to play a single team with an extra week to prep for them.

  16. nyyjetsknicks says: Apr 19, 2012 12:49 PM

    coutre says:
    Apr 19, 2012 12:28 PM
    The schedule starts w/the New Jersey Giants and Jets. They can’t play at the same time, even though SF and Oakland can, and Baltimore and Washington. Plus they can rarely play at home the same weekend. Maybe once a year.
    So the schedule revolves around them. Another advantage for those two teams…

    ___________________

    How does the Jets and Giants not playing at the same time an advantage for those teams?

  17. detroitcityryda says: Apr 19, 2012 1:10 PM

    I love that we finally have Thursday night games from the get go which i walways wanted now pretty much every team will get some national tv and we hardcore fans don’t have to only look to Mondays .

  18. scooter7777777 says: Apr 19, 2012 1:11 PM

    Glaring prime-time issues: non-playoff teams like Dallas get 3 Sunday night games and Chicago gets 3 Monday night games? Yet New England gets only 2 Sunday night games and ONE Monday night game?

    Yeah, let’s show Tony Romo and Jay Cutler over Tom Brady … ugh.

  19. trollhammer20 says: Apr 19, 2012 1:14 PM

    As a Seahawks fan, I was happier with this year’s schedule than ones from previous years. We have a late bye week, our first three road games are against teams that were below .500 last year, and we only have three 10 AM Pacific starts. Plus, we play in Miami in November, and our December trip to Buffalo will be an indoor game played in Toronto. Also, we close out the season with three home games against division rivals in four weeks – if we’re still in the playoff hunt after 12 games, we will be in excellent shape.

    That said, there’s room for improvement. In week 13, both the Seahawks and 49ers have to travel for 10 AM West Coast starts. There are nine games that start at that time. The Ravens-Steelers game that same day is set for 4 pm, when there are only four games. Why do the East Coast teams, who gain no advantage playing each other at 4 pm, get the late start, while the West Coast teams, who are historically bad in 10 AM Pacific starts, don’t get the benefit of a later start? It’s not like there aren’t plenty of games for the early time slot….in fact, you could move the Niners and ‘Hawks to the later time and still have 7 morning games and 6 afternoon games….or leave the Ravens-Steelers at 10 AM and have it 8 morning and 5 afternoon games.

    The league changed scheduling and travel rules to keep East Coast teams from having to travel to the far West coast more than twice a year. It’s about time they gave the West Coast teams a break when it comes to 10 AM starts.

  20. peezwizz says: Apr 19, 2012 1:39 PM

    buddybowl69 says:
    Apr 19, 2012 12:29 PM
    At least making the schedule for the Patriots was easy. Make the games in the middle of their schedule as easy as possible and finish up the year with all home games. Talk about FAVORITISM.

    dry your tears, tell the rest of the AFC east to get better. 12 + wins, CHUMP.

  21. jgedgar70 says: Apr 19, 2012 1:45 PM

    You want the man who put the most under-achieving teams in the history of professional sports (Dallas, San Diego) on prime time TV 3 or 4 times while giving no Sunday night games to the team with the QB that just broke every rookie record in the book to take a bow? Really?

  22. rappysappy says: Apr 19, 2012 1:45 PM

    So one of the no-no’s on the list is starting the season with 2 road games. Only two teams start on the road for the first two weeks. Of all the teams that shouldn’t be punished by this, can you guess which teams they are? Cowboys & Redskins. Come to think of it, Cowboys started on the road the first two weeks last year (@ NYJ, @ SF).

    So how can that be an instant no-no, yet happen twice in two years????

  23. peezwizz says: Apr 19, 2012 1:45 PM

    can’t wait to see sanchez munching on a turkey leg while he sits on the bench thanksgiving night.

  24. trollhammer20 says: Apr 19, 2012 1:47 PM

    eaglesstats:

    The Seahawks play two of their first three games against teams that had the Thursday night game the previous week, meaning both Dallas and Green Bay get an extra 3 days to rest and prepare for their games in Seattle. Then, after the GB game on a Monday night, they play a Rams team, in St. Louis, that will have one extra day to prepare.

    In all, seven of Seattle’s 16 opponents this year will have more prep/rest time; only once is that margin only one day. Only twice will the Seahawks have more prep time than their opponent, after the bye, and after their appearance on Thursday Night Football.

  25. joe.attaboy says: Apr 19, 2012 1:48 PM

    MDS mentions that some people shrug at the big deal a lot of fans make about the release of the schedule dates, as though it doesn’t matter.

    For some of us, it does. I work in DC but have Jaguars season tickets (my home is near Jacksonville), so seeing the specific game dates this far in advance is a big deal. In fact, it’s a huge freaking deal. This gives me the opportunity to frame out a travel schedule for the fall. With two major holidays during the NFL season, and the addition of every-team Thursday night games, knowing dates in advance is critical for scheduling holiday leave time, flying dates, etc.

    Example: this season, Jacksonville has a Sunday home game, then a home Thursday night game four days later. This gives me time to decide if I’m going make that double trip home or give the tickets to someone in the family.

  26. wayne1693 says: Apr 19, 2012 1:50 PM

    Yes…all the Rocket Scientists and Brain Surgeons are thinking of making a collateral move.

  27. coutre says: Apr 19, 2012 1:58 PM

    nyyjetsknicks says:
    Apr 19, 2012 12:49 PM

    ___________________

    How does the Jets and Giants not playing at the same time an advantage for those teams?

    I will admit that it may not be a competitive advantage, but it is just more proof that the league revolves around the NJ Giants and Jets.

  28. godzilla111111 says: Apr 19, 2012 2:08 PM

    trollhammer20 says:
    Apr 19, 2012 1:14 PM
    As a Seahawks fan, I was happier with this year’s schedule than ones from previous years. We have a late bye week, our first three road games are against teams that were below .500 last year, and we only have three 10 AM Pacific starts. Plus, we play in Miami in November, and our December trip to Buffalo will be an indoor game played in Toronto. Also, we close out the season with three home games against division rivals in four weeks – if we’re still in the playoff hunt after 12 games, we will be in excellent s——–
    ——————————————————–

    FYI No one outside of Seattle cares about or thinks about the Seahawks. Seriously.

  29. jnbnet says: Apr 19, 2012 2:09 PM

    At least making the schedule for the Patriots was easy. Make the games in the middle of their schedule as easy as possible and finish up the year with all home games. Talk about FAVORITISM.

    ——————————————————
    The Patriots play three of their first four games away….and they travel to London (do you know where that is?)

  30. drshakedown74 says: Apr 19, 2012 2:13 PM

    Eagles play 4 teams coming off bye weeks.

  31. mattsffrd says: Apr 19, 2012 2:22 PM

    I agree with the comments about west coast teams playing 1PM ET games, its ridiculous and makes no sense (for the record, I live on the east coast). It wouldn’t be hard at all to schedule these games at 4PM, hell on most Sundays there are a ton of games at 1 and hardly anything at 4. There is literally no downside to doing it and it makes perfect sense…I guess that’s why the NFL ignores it.

  32. eaglesstats says: Apr 19, 2012 2:30 PM

    @trollhammer20:

    What are the 7 games? I only see 5 of them: Week 2 (Cowboys), Week 3 (Packers), Week 4 (@Rams), Week 9 (Vikings) and Week 10 (Jets)

  33. rj2922 says: Apr 19, 2012 2:31 PM

    Back in the Early 1900’s , then NFL commissioner Bert Bell used to write out the schedule by hand using pencil and paper. I guess it’s much easier to do without tv networks and prime time games to worry about. And of course only 12 teams. Lol

  34. thereisfootballwestofjersey says: Apr 19, 2012 2:32 PM

    The west coast teams always get jobbed. The extra airline travel and the 10am start times when they go East are HUGE disadvantages. That’s why to this day the 49ers streak of dominant road victories in the 80s and 90s ranks right up there as one of the most impressive feats in league history.

    As to Katz’ juggling of the 17 week schedule, unless you’re in the event biz (I am) you have no idea how hard it truly is. Well done Howie. Drinks on me

  35. nyyjetsknicks says: Apr 19, 2012 3:16 PM

    coutre says:
    Apr 19, 2012 1:58 PM
    nyyjetsknicks says:
    Apr 19, 2012 12:49 PM

    ___________________

    How does the Jets and Giants not playing at the same time an advantage for those teams?

    I will admit that it may not be a competitive advantage, but it is just more proof that the league revolves around the NJ Giants and Jets.

    _______________________

    NY is the biggest market. If both teams play at the same time you’re splitting the market 55 – 45 (more giants fans). Why would they want to lose millions of viewers?

  36. xxsweepthelegxx says: Apr 19, 2012 3:31 PM

    thereisfootballwestofjersey says:
    Apr 19, 2012 2:32 PM
    The west coast teams always get jobbed. The extra airline travel and the 10am start times when they go East are HUGE disadvantages. That’s why to this day the 49ers streak of dominant road victories in the 80s and 90s ranks right up there as one of the most impressive feats in league history.

    As to Katz’ juggling of the 17 week schedule, unless you’re in the event biz (I am) you have no idea how hard it truly is. Well done Howie. Drinks on me
    ——————
    Just to play devil’s advocate.

    It must be nice playing football in 60-80 degree weather November through January as opposed to 0-40 degrees with rain/sleet right?

    Playing in the NFC West or AFC West division is an advantage too, lol

  37. watermelon1 says: Apr 19, 2012 3:40 PM

    Actually putting the schedule together is quite easy. But they like to make people think its hard, as that’s their only real excuse for putting games like Ravens vs. Browns on primetime when both teams with already anemic offenses then have a very short week to prepare.

  38. toddm1016 says: Apr 19, 2012 3:42 PM

    Second straight year Oakland gets the MNF season-opening nightcap then travels to the east coast for an early game in Week 2.

  39. areyoudue says: Apr 19, 2012 3:43 PM

    The one thing that continues to be ignored in this process are the season ticket holders, who cares what they think.

    The NYJ playing on Thanksgiving for the 2nd time in three years is crap, but I’m sure Woody was clamoring for the national exposure.

  40. eballa1 says: Apr 19, 2012 3:46 PM

    Wow, PFT talked about the Saints without saying bounty

  41. swagger52 says: Apr 19, 2012 4:18 PM

    Let me guess…

    Walt Coleman makes up the schedule?

    Why do the Patriots always have the dream schedule? They have been first place in AFC east forever because of the lack of competition, but yet they always have an easier schedule than Buffalo who is always last?

    Scheduling…Patriots Check
    Third down and long and get illegal contact penalties for first down…Patriots Check
    Tuck Rule…Patriots Check

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