By AP Professional Football Writer JOSH DUBOW
When NFL schedule officials began digging after the Super Bowl to piece together the complex jigsaw puzzle of a 272-game schedule, Tom Brady had just retired, Russell Wilson was in Seattle, and the free agent frenzy didn’t stop there. hadn’t even started.
After sifting through more than 100,000 programs on a possibility of more than a quadrillion possibilities, the final program the NFL released Thursday had Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Wilson and his new team in Denver getting windows. prime time television in week 1.
The Bucs secured the opening berth Sunday night against the Dallas Cowboys, while Wilson’s debut for the Broncos will come against his former Seahawks team in Seattle in Monday night’s opener.
“Previously, building this thing by hand, we could have been in week 8 or 9 by the time we moved Russell Wilson to Denver,” the NFL’s vice president of broadcast planning said. , Mike North. “Maybe we could have adjusted a couple of things, but maybe not a wholesale stop and restart. Now, thanks to the way technology allows us to attack this process, we were able to stop, take a break, reevaluate and talk to our partners, talk to our bosses and start all over again and within days we had a whole new path and a whole new plan that would maximize every one of those Denver games, every one of those Denver games Tampa Bay.
“We probably weren’t going to do this until these quarterbacks moved on.”
Although changes in free agency and the draft are always a factor that schedulers have to deal with, this year’s retirement change by Brady and the new homes of Wilson and Deshaun Watson have been more publicized and have had a significant impact on the schedule.
The Broncos and Bucs were among the 13 teams that got the maximum five prime-time windows, along with Super Bowl entrants the Rams and Bengals, and other big-draw teams such as Buffalo, Dallas, Kansas City, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Green Bay, Pittsburgh, New England and the Chargers.
North said other deals such as Tyreek Hill’s trade from Kansas City to Miami also played a role in the schedule with the Dolphins’ game against Pittsburgh 50 years after beating the Steelers in the league title game. ‘AFC on their perfect season, solidifying their place as a Sunday. week 7 night game.
What was once done by hand on a cork board by an NFL executive is now run by an Amazon-powered cloud of computers that can run all sorts of permutations every night before the league picks the schedule that, in her view, maximizes equity as much as possible. network teams and TV partners.
The league tries to balance which networks get the most high-profile games. A Bills-Chiefs playoff rematch was given to CBS; a game between Brady and Patrick Mahomes will be played Sunday night for NBC; a rematch of the NFC Championship Game between the Rams and 49ers goes to ESPN on Monday night; Amazon gets flashy quarterbacks Mahomes and Justin Herbert for Game 1 of its exclusive new Thursday Night Package; and Fox gets what could be the last game between Brady and Aaron Rodgers for his double package.
The computers also have to sift through around 26,000 “rules” put in place to manage stadium disputes, international travel before and after the five games played in England, Mexico and Germany and try to distribute the “pain” of the scheduling inequities like long road trips or the number of games played against teams coming out of byes.
“It’s, you know, a miracle, frankly, that we ever made one by hand,” North said. “The AWS software, hardware, technology, search engine, cloud computers allow us to look at a lot more options. We still would have landed on one then hopefully we would have been proud of. But it’s a very different process and we really couldn’t do it without the technology we have.
There were a few oddities in the schedule, such as the Bengals playing all three prime-time road division games and the Patriots playing four straight prime-time games. North said the problem with Cincinnati was that the league wanted them to play prime time against Miami and Buffalo and those were at home, which led to the other games on the road.
The Patriots and Bills were both listed early in the Thanksgiving schedule, with New England taking on Minnesota on the night. With two of the six teams playing Thanksgiving usually playing the following Thursday night as well, the NFL opted for a Patriots-Bills game.
The Patriots also requested back-to-back games in the West, and the NFL scheduled the Arizona and Las Vegas games for the next two weeks and picked them for prime time.
Another oddity: the New York Jets open their season with games all against the AFC North: at home against Baltimore, in Cleveland, at home against Cincinnati and in Pittsburgh. The only other teams to open a season against an entire division since the league expanded to 32 teams were New Orleans in 2004 and the Giants in 2002 – both against NFC West.
This year’s schedule has a few new wrinkles, from a triple title on Christmas Day to a staggered double title on Monday night in Week 2 with a Tennessee-Buffalo game starting at 7:15 p.m. ET on ESPN and a match Minnesota-Philadelphia beginning at 8:30 p.m. on ABC.
This is a change from previous years when ESPN aired a Week 1 doubleheader, with games played back-to-back, with Game 2 starting at 10:20 p.m. ET.
“We’re going to learn a little something from this year,” North said. “We’ll see what the fans tell us. And then next year, when we have three such opportunities to have ESPN and ABC side by side, we could try three different ways.
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