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Nerdy Birds: Your guide to how the NFL schedule is built

The NFL will play 272 regular season games between September 2023 and January 2024. The Falcons will feature in 17 of those. Here is a look at how those 272 contest come together, and a breakdown of how the Falcons 17 games are determined.


The 2023 season will be the third to feature 17 games since the league expanded the schedule in 2021. The switch from 16 games to 17 marked the first change in game number since moving from 14 games to 16 prior to the 1978 season. Despite initially serving as a point of contention in negotiations, the 17th game was foreshadowed by the NFL-NFLPA Collective Bargaining Agreement signed in March of 2020. The updated CBA enabled the NFL to expand the season to 17 games with union and player approval. The adjustment kept the number of regular and preseason games at 20, with three preseason games on the calendar.



Each team's games are determined by a consistent formula that includes division games, rotating intra-and-interconference games, as well as intra-and-interconference games based on standings.

Falcons 2023 Opponents Formula

  • 6 games – NFC South
  • 4 games – NFC North
  • 4 games – AFC South
  • 1 game - NFC East 4th place team (Commanders)
  • 1 game – NFC West 4th place team (Cardinals)
  • 1 game – AFC East 4th place team (Jets)

Apart from six regular NFC South games, the Falcons opponents change from year to year. Those changes are either by rotation, in the case of the other two divisions the Falcons will play, or they're determined by standings. For example, in 2023 the Falcons will play the NFC North and AFC South and will face the teams with the same division standing in the NFC East and NFC West.

In addition to the traditional 16 games, the Falcons additional 17th game will feature an AFC opponent each season based on the prior year's standings. In 2023, the Falcons will travel to New York to face the Jets as their extra opponent.

When it comes to the 17th game, the home and road teams are determined by a conference rotation each year – AFC home in 2023, NFC home in 2024 – which means Atlanta will play in New York this season and will host an additional game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium next year. Point of clarification, the 17th game isn't necessarily the final game of the season. It refers to the additional game beyond the 16 games the traditional formula provides. Each year the 17th game will match the Falcons with a team from an AFC division that finished in the same place in the standings that they are not already scheduled to play.


A policy that began in 2022 will see each team play internationally at least once every eight years. The Falcons will kick off the NFL's International Games in Week 4 when they play the Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley Stadium in London in a 9:30 a.m. ET game on ESPN+.

The Week 4 matchup will mark Atlanta's third regular-season game played in London, having most recently defeated the Jets, 27-20, in Week 5 of the 2021 season at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. It will be the first time the Falcons will travel to the United Kingdom as the visiting team.

Atlanta Falcons running back Tyler Allgeier #25 stretches before the game against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey on Monday, August 22, 2022. (Photo by Mitchell Martin/Atlanta Falcons)


One of the biggest changes to the NFL schedule in 2023 is the removal of the traditional conference and network pairings. No longer will the road team determine the broadcast network for the majority of Sunday afternoon games. Since 1994, Fox has held the NFC rights, meaning that if the Falcons – or any other NFC team for that matter – was playing an AFC team on the road that game would be broadcast on Fox. Similarly, when the Falcons hosted an AFC team at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, that game would have been broadcast on CBS.

While the league has cross-flexed games in the past which flipped the traditional networks, in 2023 and beyond both networks will have the chance to vie for all games in their broadcast windows (1:00 p.m. ET, 4:05 p.m. ET, and 4:25 p.m. ET), similar to the way the networks with primetime games jockey for exciting matchups.

It's still likely the Falcons will be regulars on Fox but you may see a few more games on CBS moving forward. The traditional pairings will return for the postseason with Fox airing the NFC playoffs and CBS handling the AFC.



The Falcons 2023 opponents were locked in once the 2022 season ended. While the opponents are known, the process of selecting who plays where things get interesting. According to the NFL's Football Operations department, a six-person team of executives is tasked with creating the schedule. They use cloud-based computing to create thousands of possible schedules before the six-person crew begins the process of picking the best one.

Within this process, the schedule makers have to consider a wide variety of factors, including logistical hurdles like previously scheduled events at stadiums, other events in each given city, and events that may put stress on the field. Then there are the competitive issues, such as how many times a team plays a team coming off its bye week or when each team's bye week falls and how that relates to the previous season. For example, since Atlanta had a late bye in 2022, look for the Falcons to have an early or mid-season bye in 2023.

Per the NFL's Football Operations department, the league tries to limit the number of consecutive road games a team plays to two games. The NFL also tries to limit the number of times a team has to travel across the country, typically giving east coast teams back-to-back west coast games like Atlanta playing in Los Angeles and Seattle in consecutive weeks last season.

Finally, the networks have their say, negotiating for the matchups they think will draw the most eyeballs.



  • NFL Kickoff Weekend: Thursday, September 7, 2023
  • Regular Season Finale: Sunday, January 7, 2024
  • Super Bowl LVIII: Sunday, February 11, 2024 (Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas)


The Falcons will look to build on the foundation that has been laid over the past two seasons under the guidance of head coach Arthur Smith and general manager Terry Fontenot when they kick off the 2023 season in September. Despite missing the postseason in 2022, there is precedent for teams to take a step forward over an offseason.

According to NFL Research, at least four teams have qualified for the playoffs that were not in the postseason the year before for 33 consecutive seasons. At least two teams have won their divisions the season after missing the playoffs in 19 of the last 20 seasons, including the Falcons in 2010 and 2016. There has also been at least one team to go from "worst-to-first", winning its division the season after finishing in last place in 18 of the last 20 seasons.

The Falcons full 2023 schedule will be released on NFL Network and on Thursday, at 8 p.m. ET.

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