How Many Regular Season Games in the NFL: 17-Game Schedule and Its Impact

EraYearsNumber of GamesNotes
Early DaysPre-1960s12-14Fluctuating number of games
The Sweet Spot1960s-1970s14Stable format for nearly two decades
The Expansion Era1978-202016Increased to accommodate more teams
The Modern Marathon2021-Present17Aims to enhance revenue, rivalries, and fan engagement
NFL Regular Season: A Historical Look at the Number of Games

How Many Regular Season Games in the NFL
How Many Regular Season Games in the NFL

Football fans eagerly await the kickoff of every NFL season, a time for electrifying touchdowns, strategic plays, and nail-biting finishes. But before the pigskin starts flying, a common question pops into many minds: how many regular season games are there in the NFL?

This seemingly simple question holds more weight than you might think. The number of games directly impacts the intensity of the competition, player fatigue, and the overall length of the season. So, let’s dive into the world of NFL scheduling and uncover the answer.

From 14 to 17

The quest for the Lombardi Trophy wasn’t always a 17-game marathon. The NFL’s regular season length has undergone several transformations throughout its illustrious history. Here’s a quick rewind:

  • Early Days (Pre-1960s): The NFL’s early years saw a fluctuating number of games, ranging from 12 to 14. Imagine a season flying by in a flash!
  • The Sweet Spot (1960s-1970s): In 1961, the NFL settled on a 14-game schedule, a format that remained stable for almost two decades. This period witnessed the rise of legendary rivalries and iconic players.
  • The Expansion Era (1978-2020): 1978 marked another shift as the league expanded to 28 teams, necessitating a schedule increase to 16 games. This era saw a surge in team competition and broader fan bases.
  • The Modern Marathon (2021-Present): In 2021, the NFL implemented a historic change: a 17-game regular season. This decision aimed to enhance revenue, create more inter-conference matchups, and heighten fan engagement.

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Why 17 Games?

The shift to 17 games wasn’t without its critics. But the NFL had several compelling reasons for this move:

  • Enhanced Revenue: The additional game translates to more television viewership and advertising opportunities, bolstering league revenue. This additional income allows for increased investment in player safety, facilities, and fan experiences.
  • Inter-Conference Rivalry: The 17th game pits teams from opposite conferences, fostering fresh matchups and potentially igniting new rivalries. This injects a dose of novelty and excitement into the season.
  • Fan Engagement: More games translate to more opportunities for fans to see their favorite teams play. It also offers a broader spectrum of matchups, potentially leading to more thrilling contests throughout the season.

Weighing the Pros and Cons of 17 Games

While the 17-game schedule has its advantages, it’s not without potential drawbacks:

  • Player Fatigue: The additional game raises concerns about player fatigue and potential injuries. A longer season can take a physical toll on athletes, impacting their performance and overall well-being.
  • Competitive Balance: With more games, there’s a chance for stronger teams to rack up more wins, potentially widening the gap between top and bottom contenders. This could lead to a less competitive landscape.
  • Regular Season Significance: With an extra game, some argue that the significance of each regular-season contest might diminish. It could potentially lead to more “meaningless” games towards the end of the season, affecting fan interest.

The 17-Game Schedule Format

Now that we know there are 17 games in an NFL season, let’s understand how this schedule unfolds:

  • Divisional Matchups: Each team plays its divisional opponents twice – once at home and once away. This format fosters intense rivalries within divisions.
  • Conference Foes: Teams also play six games against opponents from within their conference, selected based on the previous season’s standings. This ensures a diverse mix of matchups while maintaining a conference balance.
  • Inter-Conference Clash: The 17th game, the crown jewel of the new schedule, pits each team against an opponent from the opposite conference. This is typically determined by the previous year’s standings, fostering marquee matchups.
  • Bye Week: Every team gets a single bye week, a much-needed respite during the grueling 18-week season. This allows for player recovery and strategic planning.

Increased Focus on Player Health and Safety

The NFL acknowledges the concerns about player fatigue and has implemented measures to mitigate the risks associated with the 17-game schedule:

  • Enhanced Training Regimens: Teams prioritize training programs that emphasize injury prevention, conditioning, and recovery strategies. This allows players to maintain peak performance throughout the longer season.
  • Advanced Analytics: Teams leverage data analytics to monitor player workload, identify fatigue risks, and develop personalized training plans. This helps coaches make informed decisions about player utilization.
  • Rule Changes: The NFL has implemented rule changes aiming to protect players from unnecessary hits and injuries. This includes stricter enforcement of targeting penalties and a focus on player safety within the game itself.

How Does the 17-Game Schedule Affect Viewers?

While some fans welcome the additional game, others express concerns about diminishing the regular season’s significance. Here’s a breakdown of the fan perspective:

  • More Football, More Fun: Football fans rejoice at the prospect of more games to watch, potentially leading to a more extended season of excitement and entertainment.
  • Potential for Dilution: With an extra game, some fans worry about the “watering down” of the regular season. They fear matchups towards the end might hold less weight, impacting overall fan engagement.
  • Evolving Preferences: The NFL is constantly evolving to meet the needs of its diverse fanbase. Streaming services and innovative technologies are making it easier for fans to access games and stay engaged throughout the season, regardless of the number of contests.

Will 17 Games Remain the Standard?

The jury’s still out on whether the 17-game schedule will be the permanent format. Here’s a glimpse into potential future scenarios:

  • Sticking with 17: If the additional game proves successful in terms of revenue, fan engagement, and maintaining a competitive balance, the 17-game format might become the norm.
  • Shifting Gears: The NFL could explore alternative schedules, potentially experimenting with a variable format based on factors like league expansion or fan preferences.
  • The Power of Fan Feedback: The league heavily considers fan feedback in its decision-making process. Depending on how fans respond to the 17-game schedule in the long term, the NFL might adjust course in the future.


The 17-game NFL regular season presents a unique blend of challenges and opportunities. It demands strategic roster management, meticulous training programs, and a heightened focus on player health. For fans, it offers more high-octane matchups, potentially fostering new rivalries and captivating narratives. Whether the 17-game format becomes the permanent fixture remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: the NFL continues to evolve, striving to deliver a thrilling and captivating experience for players and fans alike.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Do all NFL teams play the same 17 opponents each season?

No. Teams play their divisional opponents twice, conference opponents based on previous season standings, and an inter-conference opponent determined by a specific formula.

How many total games are played in an NFL season?

With 32 teams each playing 17 games, a total of 272 regular-season games are played in the NFL.

What happens during a team’s bye week?

A bye week is a scheduled break where the team doesn’t play a game. This allows players to rest, recover from injuries, and participate in additional training sessions.

Has there ever been a longer NFL regular season?

No, 17 games is the current longest regular season format in NFL history.

How does the 17-game schedule impact the playoffs?

The additional game can make the playoff race more tight and unpredictable. A single win or loss might hold greater significance in determining postseason berths.

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