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A Conversation With: An NFL Schedule Maker


The Chargers 2024 schedule features four back-to-back road trips, three primetime games and the same opponent in Weeks 1 and 18.

We chatted with Charlotte Carey, the NFL Director of Broadcasting, who is a key member is helping generate each team's schedule.

Here's our 1-on-1 conversation with Carey:

Thank you for your time, Charlotte. Now that the 2024 schedule is out, what was the biggest challenge wth this year's edition?

Carey: It's always one big puzzle piece. I would say, you know, the problem gets harder and harder every year. The pieces I think that were the most challenging this year, beyond just the regular stadium blocks and everything else — you can talk about Taylor Swift always coming through and blocking a couple of our stadiums throughout the course of the season — but the biggest difference is we have the Christmas round robin in Week 16 and 17. That was an interesting piece this year, with the additional windows in order to play on Wednesday, we had to move two of the games to Saturday so that the teams that were playing Wednesday could play Saturday to Wednesday.

So you needed four teams that were going to play each other and then you had a little round robin with two teams playing each other on Saturday each and then coming back and playing the other teams on Wednesday. So a pretty fun way to handle Christmas, but it was a bit of a challenge from a window perspective, particularly in Week 17. So finding the right mix of teams and games and inventory for all of those different windows was definitely a challenge and something that we focused on this year, but we think we landed in a really good place.

Generally speaking, what is the NFL's view of the Chargers heading into 2024?

Carey: We're excited about them. You'll see we definitely are using the Chargers in a primetime, ESPN game — The Harbaugh Bowl — which we're very excited about. That's a big story going into the season, and kind of fun in Week 12 on Monday night heading into Thanksgiving, right? We always talk about how football is family and that's the theme for Thanksgiving. It's kind of fun to have that game on the Monday night leading into Thanksgiving week. We liked it there a lot and then we also have the ESPN+ game in Week 7 plus the Sunday night game [in Week 14]. They also are in a double header window in Week 4 versus Kansas City. That's our most highly-viewed window and then also potential for the Saturday for Week 17.

So we are definitely using the Chargers over the course of the season and whether they're not in prime, to be honest with you, a game like Chargers-Pittsburgh in Week 3 on CBS could take over a lot of their map. That could be a highly distributed game depending on everything else in that window. Again, down the stretch with Chargers-Atlanta and that's a game if both teams are rolling, I could see being mapped pretty widely at 1 o'clock. We are using the Chargers over the course of the schedule as well as we can. Whether they're in prime or on Sunday afternoon, we're certainly looking to use the Chargers and hoping that they are relevant and good down the stretch as you can see, especially with the Saturday pool in Week 17.

You mentioned the Harbaugh Bowl, was that pretty much a given that it was going to be on primetime?

Carey: We looked at a lot of different windows, to be honest with you, we even saw it land at a 4:05 window but we really liked it in prime and we loved it on Monday Night Football. We thought that the Monday night group could really blow it out with programming all day and leading up to Thanksgiving. We really like that particular location for it.

How intriguing do you think the Jim Harbaugh storyline is this season?

Carey: Yeah, we're really excited. I mean, obviously he's a great coach and it's a big story this season. We're excited about that. And then [Justin] Herbert is a fun young quarterback along with a great coach, I think it's an exciting mix. I would say that we're definitely hoping the Chargers are really relevant over the course of the season and down the stretch. We definitely use them, especially later in the season as you'll see in the schedule. I think that it shows what the schedule team is thinking here.

The Chargers have five Eastern time zone game this year. How did you kind of take into account about spacing them out as best as possible?

Carey: It's always a challenge. We always have West Coast teams playing East and East Coast teams playing West and we definitely take particular care in making sure that we're spacing them correctly. We're working with the teams if they're open to pairing some of those trips. Some clubs you'll see, will definitely pair these East Coast trips and some won't. It really depends on what the coach and organization are hoping to do. Generally speaking, we won't put them back-to-back unless the club is willing to pair. And if they decide not to, at that point once they get the schedule, that's fine, too. But we generally work with the clubs to make sure that those long trips are thoughtful, and we won't put them back to back at this point without having conversations ahead of time.

The Chargers have a Week 5 bye for the second year in a row. That's the earliest possible bye, is that just how the schedule shook out?

Carey: Exactly. They had a Week 5 bye last year and a Week 8 bye the year before. Byes somewhat fall where they fall. We definitely take care to make sure that year after year after year you won't a Week 5 bye, but two years in a row it may fall there. That's something we look at every year. If a team lets us know, 'Hey, that was really tricky for us' then we definitely take it into consideration. We have conversations with all the clubs all the time trying to understand if there's any statistical information we can look at to see if there's any relevance to it. We really make sure we are up to date in what could be a competitive inequity for all clubs.

The Chargers do not have a Thursday night game in 2024. Is that because of the East Coast trips or the other primetime games? It seems like no Thursday games are a rarity.

Carey: We definitely saw them on Thursday on some schedules. I wouldn't say they were intentionally left off the Thursday night schedule. They still get a decent amount of primetime games with the two Monday night games and the Sunday night, plus the doubleheader in Week 4 and potentially the Saturday pool [in Week 17]. I would tell you it was not a 'Leave the Chargers off Thursday night conversation.' But the final schedule did not have them on. There was not an intentional piece to that.

The Bolts have nine road games this year but they also have three straight home games in November. What factors went into that circumstance?

Carey: You have to look at the shared building aspect of it. With the New York teams and the LA teams, when you do have shared buildings, it's obviously something we have to pay special attention to and make sure the spacing works out. You can't both be home on a Sunday afternoon. That's a piece of the puzzle as well and something that just shook out. You'll see that with other teams, too, it wasn't just the Chargers.

What's the game that stands out to you on the Bolts schedule? I know we haven't covered Week 1 yet.

Carey: I think all of the division games will be fun. The AFC West is always fun to watch because they play each other so tough. There's the Raiders in Week 1 and then the Chiefs in Week 4, you know the Chargers always show up and play KC tough. Obviously, the Harbaugh Bowl, that's the most exciting game with the story around it and everything else. I'm very excited for Monday night in Week 12.

Final question, how many serious iterations of the schedule did you and your crew put eyes to? Are we talking hundreds or thousands of possible schedules?

Carey: I wish I could tell you it was a hundred because my eyes would feel a lot better right now. But we're talking thousands. We really get hundreds of thousands of schedules and do a deep dive — somebody is putting their eyes on every single one we get. We look through so many of these and that's why this process takes so long. It's a little like Groundhog Day. We come in each morning and look through everything that ran overnight — the good, the bad, the ugly — and see what we want to keep or what we want to never see again. We run the schedules again and come in the next morning and do the same thing over and over and over again until we get to a point where a lot of things we like about the schedule are somewhat locked in. Then we maybe change a few things that we might try to jiggle the puzzle up a little bit to see what can shake out. At the end, it's just fixing some pieces around it where we might want to see a little bit of a different change.

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