Published April 21, 2016
You may not have known it, but NFL schedulers caught a break earlier this year when the Denver Broncos squared off against the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50, says Mark Karwan, a UB engineer and NFL scheduling expert.
The two teams, which don’t play each other often, were already scheduled for a game in the upcoming 2016 regular season due to how the NFL creates its schedules. That made it possible to open the 2016-17 season with a rematch between the rivals.
“Teams rotate every four years which division of opponents they will face in their opposing conference. For example, the Buffalo Bills (and every other AFC East team) will play against each team in the NFC West this upcoming season,” says Karwan, Praxair Professor of Operations Research and SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
It just so happened that Denver’s division (AFC West) was in line to match up against Carolina’s division (NFC South), Karwan says. As a result, NFL schedulers have Denver and Carolina opening the season in a rematch of Super Bowl 50.
“The scheduling team really caught a lucky break, making scheduling the season opener a no-brainer,” says Karwan. “This gives Cam Newton and the Carolina offense an immediate rematch with that great Denver defense which carried the day in Super Bowl 50.”
Karwan, who has previously spoken with NFL schedule makers, says the process of creating the league schedule is daunting. He was previously part of a team that conducted a mathematical analysis showing how NFL schedules could potentially be fairer, but he readily admits that scheduling is no easy task.
“There are literally 70 trillion different ways that each team can be scheduled,” he says, adding that making the league schedule is complicated by television requests, stadium availability, holidays and other variables.