Inside the 2024 NFL schedule: How the NFL assures fair distribution of top TV games

It’s not just coming up with a schedule that works for all 32 teams. The NFL also has the challenge of pleasing its broadcast partners by evenly doling out the premier games.

To that end, the league ranks the matchups in terms of quality from 1 to 272.

That’s entirely subjective, of course, but people generally can agree on top-tier matchups, and the NFL is always careful when distributing those.

“This puzzle gets harder and harder to solve every year,” Michael North, the NFL’s vice president of broadcast planning, told The Times. “There are 272 assets and they belong to our fans, not to us. We’ve got to dole out these assets across an ever-increasing number of media partners. The line we always use for ourselves is, ‘Everybody gets something, nobody gets everything.’”

Perhaps the best matchup this season is a Super Bowl rematch, Kansas City at San Francisco in Week 7. There’s a good chance that will be the most-watched regular season game, and Fox will make it the second game of a doubleheader. That window usually amasses the largest audience in the regular season outside of Thanksgiving and Christmas Day games.

Another monster game is Dallas at San Francisco, NBC’s Sunday night game in Week 8.

NFC East rivals Philadelphia and Dallas play twice per season, and Fox contractually gets one of those. This season, for the first time, CBS will get Eagles at Cowboys in its Week 10 doubleheader window.

ESPN gets one of the premier games right out of the gate, with the New York Jets at San Francisco in the opening Monday night game. That marks not only the return of Aaron Rodgers, but also his return to the Bay Area, where he played collegiately at Cal.

“The fun part of working with this [schedule-building] team is how we start to limit all of those different solutions that are possible and end up with one schedule in the end,” said Lucy Popko, senior broadcasting coordinator.

“It means looking through thousands and thousands of schedules and going through week by week, game by game, window by window to make sure we find the best schedule for teams, for fans and for all of our broadcast partners.”

Other notable aspects of the NFL schedule:

  • One of the biggest priorities for Amazon Prime Video was to continue to build the Black Friday game, which started last season. This year it’s Las Vegas at Kansas City. Those teams drew 29 million viewers for a Christmas Day game last year, and the Raiders won at Arrowhead Stadium.
  • The Kickoff Opener is Baltimore at Kansas City, a rematch of last year’s AFC championship game, featuring quarterbacks Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes.
  • This already was announced, but Green Bay is playing Philadelphia in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in a Week 1 Friday game that will be streamed on Peacock.
  • The Rams return to Detroit on Sunday night in Week 1, with Matthew Stafford going back to the Motor City — eight months after a playoff loss there — and Jared Goff once again squaring off against his old team.
  • Week 2 features at least three compelling quarterback pairings: Buffalo at Miami (Josh Allen versus Tua Tagovailoa), Cincinnati at Kansas City (Joe Burrow vs. Mahomes) and Chicago at Houston (Caleb Williams vs. C.J. Stroud).
  • The most-watched games of the regular season happen on Thanksgiving Day, when Detroit hosts Chicago, Dallas hosts the New York Giants, and Miami plays at Green Bay.
  • Last year, the Packers upset the Lions on Thanksgiving. This year, Green Bay is hosting a Thanksgiving game for the first time since 2015, a night when the Packers retired Brett Favre’s jersey.
  • There are some big games Thanksgiving weekend, with Philadelphia at Baltimore and San Francisco at Buffalo.
  • Everybody is going to be tuned in for the Harbaugh Bowl, when brother Jim’s Chargers host John’s Ravens in Week 12. John has the Super Bowl ring, having beaten Jim’s San Francisco 49ers in the 2012 season.
  • There will be two games on Christmas Day, Kansas City at Pittsburgh and Baltimore at Houston, and Netflix is streaming both of them. They will be at 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. PT, allowing for prime-time streaming in some international markets.
  • Because Christmas falls on a Wednesday, the league will precede that with a couple of Saturday games featuring those same teams. So the previous Saturday, it will be Houston at Kansas City leading into Pittsburgh at Baltimore. See what the NFL did there? Just took the four Christmas teams and reshuffled them.

  • The Rams open with two games on the road. That’s because Green Day is coming to SoFi Stadium in September, so the league knew both the Rams and Chargers would be on the road in Week 2. The NFL decided not to put both teams at home in Week 1, so one club was destined to play its home debut in Week 3.
  • When the Chargers play at Arizona in Week 7, that game will be on ESPN+, which in recent years has been home to those early morning Europe games. Chargers-Cardinals will kick off 45 minutes after the regular Monday night game, Baltimore at Tampa Bay.

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