Mike North, the NFL's vice president of broadcast planning, explaining the schedule-making process to me like this on Thursday afternoon. He said he and his group treat the schedule like we all did college papers - there's never a reason to turn it in early.

So they took all the time they could. And the 2024 NFL regular-season schedule that was released moments ago popped into the league's database at about 2 a.m. Sunday morning, May 12. The computers had hummed all week long to spit this schedule out, which then got human eyes on it Sunday morning. Then it was passed around to various people in the league
office in the afternoon. And then a four-hour Zoom was held Sunday night before it was sent to commissioner Roger Goodell around midnight.

Goodell signed off on the schedule Monday afternoon and the race was on.

Last year, North and I spoke ahead of the official schedule release, and we decided to keep the tradition going this year. Below is an edited transcription of our nearly half-hour talk about how the schedule came to be and why certain decisions were made. Enjoy.

I think many of us were expecting the schedule last week. Maybe we should not have expected it last week, but I think a lot of people with that expectation said, 'Well, what took so long?' Why did it take longer than it has in previous years? If that's true, why is that?

"Yeah, I'm not sure that's really true. I mean, last year it was May 11th and here we are on May 15th. So yeah, I guess it's a few days later, but it's still in that same sort of first couple weeks in May. Part of it is wanting to be able to react to what we see in the draft. You'll notice when the schedule comes out, some of these teams are drafted young quarterbacks, whether it's Washington or New England or obviously Chicago, some kind of early in-the-season, national television exposure. Didn't want to maybe commit to that until we knew exactly what they were going to do with their draft capital. And again, the solution space of potential NFL schedules is truly infinite. So yes, I know everybody's waiting on us but man, I kind of wish we had another month. My wife would hate it."

Well hey you mentioned the rookie quarterbacks. I think it was interesting to see the three London games featuring three of the rookie quarterbacks. Is that just total coincidence with Chicago, New England and Minnesota?

"The "home teams" were known. Designated teams, if you will. The international games are sourced from the conference with the extra home game - with the nine home games each season - so this year that's the NFC. So Chicago, Minnesota, Carolina, those guys were going and they knew they were going. Jacksonville you know goes regularly. So those teams were
known now becomes a question of well who's the visiting team."

And so we talked to all the potential visiting teams for those four teams. Hey look you know you play at Jacksonville, at Minnesota, at Chicago, at Carolina this year. You know one of their games is going internationally. You know, how would you feel about going? Is it something that your team would support? Is it something that your team or your coach would vehemently oppose? Is there a connection for you to any of those markets, such as obviously, the Jets and their owner having an ambassadorship over there? The New York Giants having Germany as one of their marketing territories... So, a little fortunate that it worked out, certainly for our international friends, that they are going to get to see, you know, some of these young quarterbacks playing for some of them really in their first national television exposure."

Christmas. Chiefs at Steelers and Ravens at Texans on Christmas Day. This is not even a pointed question. It's like just, hey. Mike North. Christmas. Go.

"Yeah, I think I would back you up all the way to, you know, the notion of the NFL even playing on a Wednesday."

Yes because I asked you about that last year when we did this... 

"And that was the fact I said I didn't think it was on our radar screen. Look, it really wasn't on our radar screen. But the more we dug into it, there were a couple of things that I think kind of drove the decision-making process. The first one is the fans have spoken, right? We've played triple headers on Christmas each of the last two years, and the viewership numbers for those games are, frankly, staggering....

"Now becomes a question of how would you even do such a thing? How would you play on a Wednesday? We play Thursday games pretty much every week of the season, and the teams who play on Thursday play the previous Sunday. Well, if you're going to play on a Wednesday, could you have those teams play the previous Saturday? Saturday to Wednesday, basically the same thing Sunday to Thursday. So we got pretty comfortable pretty quickly that it was doable. Then it became a question of, well, how would this even work? Like how are you going to find four teams? They're going to play each other in a little round robin down the stretch...

"So can you find four teams that all play each other, that are all worthy of multiple national television windows, and they all play each other one home and one away. That was a pretty narrow needle to thread. And so as we started talking about Christmas, we got ourselves pretty comfortable with this idea that Kansas City, Houston, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, they all play each other. We think those are four teams that are going to be playoff relevant down the stretch."

Speaking of the Chiefs, y'all have them playing every day but Tuesday, right?

"Yeah And I'm sure we'll find them a Tuesday at some point. But yeah, they're playing Thursday Kickoff, Black Friday, Saturday before the Christmas game, obviously Sundays and Mondays and then obviously Wednesday. So yeah, they're kind of touching them all. They're obviously one of the biggest brands we have. Defending Super Bowl champions, and we've used them historically. Jonathan, you know, we've used them to prop up some of these national television windows that maybe are kind of shifting viewer behavior and trying to remind people that, hey, there's other ways to access NFL content, whether it was the wild game on Peacock last year, obviously using them on Black Friday this year to continue to try to build that brand, and certainly the, uh, the Wednesday afternoon Christmas game.

The AFC title game rematch is in Week 1. The NFL title game rematch between the Lions and 49ers is Week 17 on "Monday Night Football.'' Why is that?

"It's really kind of bookending a historic NFL opening weekend for us. When you think about playing Thursday, Friday, Sunday and Monday, that Thursday kickoff game obviously stands on its own ... We're going to have Dallas-Cleveland as the first Fox doubleheader. Tom Brady calling his first game in the booth for Fox. Rams-Lions with Matthew Stafford back to Detroit again for Sunday Night Football for NBC. And then kind of bookend that weekend with Jets-49ers on "Monday Night Football.'' And Aaron Rodgers going back to his Northern California roots just felt like a really fun way to bookend the entire opening weekend, starting off with Baltimore, Kansas City for kickoff.

"And that allows you to take the Detroit-San Fran game and really deploy it elsewhere, and having it be the anchor for the backend of the ESPN schedule. It felt like a real good place to put that game. It's an NFC Championship rematch, but maybe it's an NFC Championship game preview for this year."

Last year the NFL bet big on the Lions putting them in so many prime-time slots, including in the kickoff game. And that obviously paid off. Based off something you said earlier [that's been edited out of this transcript] I have to believe you all feel the Texans this year may be last year's Lions, if you will. After not slating them in a standalone window last year, how many does Houston get this year?

"We are not missing on them again. They are in for prime-time games: two Sunday nights, a Monday night and a Thursday night. And they are part of the Christmas round robin. So they're in the Saturday and Wednesday national windows down there in week 16 and 17. So six nationally televised games for a team last year, as you mentioned, was scheduled for zero... It's a shame that that was the first time a lot of people got to see C.J. Stroud play quarterback, so hopefully we don't have that same problem this year."

You bet big on the Jets last year with so many prime-time slots and then four plays into the season, their year was done. What'd you decide to do with them this year?

"Look, lightning rarely strikes twice in exactly the same way. Anybody who thinks the NFL is scripted certainly shouldn't think that we scripted Aaron Rodgers to miss the rest of the season after only four plays. So we're kind of running it back. There's going to be a lot of Jets on national television ... We were all in on the Jets last year. Most of our broadcast partners were. Many of our fans were. So I think as our broadcast partners kind of queued up this year early in the process.

"Every one of them was kind of hoping to have an early season Aaron Rodgers return storyline game to talk about, so you'll see them early in the season. On ESPN, on Amazon, in London, on Sunday Night Football. There's going to be a healthy diet of New York Jets games."


  • Last year the NFL had eight teams with multiple short weeks. For a long time, the league avoided multiple short weeks like the plague. This year, there are 14 teams with multiple short weeks. It's the new normal in the NFL with so many different broadcast partners and various standalone windows to fill.
  • Going back to Christmas... those games are going to be played at 1 p.m. ET and 4:30 p.m. ET. North explained that because Netflix will capture a true global audience, the league can also find its European fans on Christmas night and maximize the holiday.
  • The Jets have not finished the regular season at home since the 2016 season. It's kind of crazy when you think about it. Anyway, Gang Green made it clear to the league office that they wished to end the season at home finally. The Jets will get their wish, as they face the Dolphins in Week 18.
  • Last year the Cardinals and Texans were the only teams who were not scheduled in a national window. This year, all 32 teams get at least one national TV exposure game. That could be a London game, or a Week 17 NFL Network Saturday game. But everyone is locked into one of them in 2024.