NFL Regular Season
The NFL regular season begins on the weekend following the first Monday of September, or the weekend following the Labor Day holiday. It concludes in early January, at which point the playoffs begin. The NFL regular season consists of 256 total games, 16 games for each of the 32 teams. Games in the NFL regular season are played on one of three days: Thursday, Sunday, or Monday.
Most NFL regular season games are played on Sundays at 1 pm, but times are subject to change due to weather constraints or schedule changes. Each week, a matchup between two teams takes place on Thursday, Sunday and Monday night, with the broadcast occurring on a major TV network such as ESPN or NFL Network.
Regular Season Schedule Creation
Every year after the Super Bowl, the NFL begins working on next season's schedule. It's a very long and complicated process that must account for all 32 teams, as well as additional constraints including travel time and rest periods that all teams must have. The schedule is usually released around the same time as the NFL Draft Combine, at the end of February.
The NFL follows a rather complex procedure when creating the schedule for each of the teams. The formula is as follows: each team will play 13 different opponents over the course of the 16 week season (division opponents are played twice), each team plays all of the teams of a division in their conference once, each team plays all of the teams of a division in the other conference once, and each team plays one team from each of the last two divisions in their own conference once (to be determined by last season's final standings). In 2007, the NFL implemented "flexible scheduling," which allows the league to swap out a primetime Monday or Sunday night game between two less competitive teams with a more attractive game between two succeeding teams.
Week to Week Play
The NFL season is 17 weeks long. Teams play 16 games across the 17 weeks with one bye week at a designated point during the season. Play for the week begins on Thursday and ends on Monday. One game is played on Thursday and one game is played on Monday (except in the case of a double-header near the end of the season). The rest of the teams play on Sunday.
The NFL trade deadline is during the regular season. The trade deadline is the point of the season at which no more inter-team trades can occur involving players. Free agents can still be signed by teams, but no players can be traded between teams. The NFL trade deadline is the day after the final game of Week Eight is played.
Each NFL team is assigned a division and conference, partly based on geographical location. Teams are split into two conferences, the NFC and AFC. Each of the 16 teams in each conference is divided into four division of four teams each: the North, South, East, and West.
Rather than simply dividing up the league, the divisions and conference of each team play a factor into that team's ability to make the playoffs and what teams that team will play during the season. Teams play the other three teams in their respective division twice a season, once at home and once as the away team.
End of Season
As the regular season finishes, it becomes clear which teams have a realistic shot of securing a spot in the playoffs. Only 12 teams make the NFL playoffs, six from the NFC and six from the AFC. The teams from each conference compete in a bracket to determine who will go to the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl is played between an AFC team and an NFC team.
After the NFL postseason, the process of creating a schedule for the next season begins again.