Ever wondered why your favorite team never seems to play the same opponents every single year? Well the NFL and all its glory have actually made the scheduling somewhat fair in the world of sports.

An NFL season consists of four preseason games (practice games) and 16 regular season games. The regular season games are played at home eight times and at an away team’s stadium eight times.

The NFL also has games in London in which one of the two teams will lose a “home game” and be the “home opponent” in London.

Each team plays two in-conference rivalry games based on the prior year’s standings. For example, the first-place team in a division will play against the first-place team from another division within the same conference. The second place team in a division will play against the second-place team from another division within the same conference, etc.

  • Each team plays home and away against its three division opponents, which accounts for six games on the schedule.
  • Each team plays four teams from another division within its conference on a rotating three-year cycle, which accounts for four more games.
  • Each team plays four teams from a division in the other conference on a rotating four-year cycle, which accounts for another four games.


  • The season concludes with a 12-team tournament used to determine the teams will play in the Super Bowl.
  • The tournament brackets are made up of six teams from each of the league’s two conferences, following the end of the 16-game regular season.
  • Each of the four division winners is seeded 1–4 based on their W-L-T records (Win-Loss-Tie).
  • The two wild card teams (labeled Wild Card 1 and 2) are seeded fifth and sixth (with the better of the two having seed 5) regardless of their records compared to the four division winners.

Below is a sample of how the divisional teams and wild card winners are seeded throughout the playoffs for each conference.


UPDATE: With the NFL adding an additional week to their regular season schedule and adjusting the preseason slate of games too, here is an updated breakdown on how the NFL creates its schedule each year: