How can I tell what NFL football is on TV in my area?

Dear Sports Fan,

How can I tell what NFL football is on TV in my area? Each week there are a whole bunch of games on but I’m never quite sure what I’m going to be able to get at home on my television.


Dear Tracy,

The NFL schedule is a tricky beast each week. If you’re a big football fan, like I am, you need to know what’s going to be on television so you can decide whether to stay home and watch, or if the best games aren’t on locally, to go to a bar where they pay to get all the games. If you’re a moderate fan of the NFL, probably the healthiest choice anyway, you need to know what your options are so you can decide what game to watch and know what channel it’s going to be on. If you’re not a fan at all, the information can still be useful if you live with a fan. Luckily, there is an amazing resource for NFL football TV schedules. It’s called 506 Sports! I am a complete and utter fanboy of their coverage of NFL television and probably go to their site four or five times a week during football season. If you become a convert, you can follow the site on Twitter or the site’s creator, JP Kirby.

During my Pitch that Game podcast last week, I tried to use 506 Sports’ NFL guide with my guest and we ended up talking for a while about exactly what each chart and map meant and how to best use them to figure out exactly what NFL football is on TV in your area each week. Here is a step by step guide.

The quick explanation for how to tell what NFL football is on TV in your area using 506 Sports

Go to the 506 Sports NFL table. Click on the correct number week to get to a set of maps. Look at your part of the country in each map. You will usually have three options, two on CBS and one on Fox or visa versa. The early game is at 1 p.m. ET. The late game is at 4:05 or 4:30 p.m. ET. To tell what time the game in the map labeled CBS Single or Fox single is, go back to the table.

How to use the 506 Sports NFL table

The first thing you’ll see when you go to 506 Sports’ NFL page is a giant table.


506 Sports NFL Table

This table is divided into major horizontal rows that correspond to each week in the NFL season. The weeks are labeled primarily by their number, but there’s also a helpful date which helps you identify which week you want to focus on. The date is the Sunday of the week. To make things a little easier to follow, the table alternates light and medium gray at the week level. Find the current week. We’re in Week 3 right now, so that’s the one we’ll use for our example.

It’s unintuitive, but let’s start with the three columns on the far right of the table. Each one of these columns (with a few exceptions) will have one and only one game in it. That’s because each column corresponds to a day or time when the NFL usually only schedules a single game. The first of these three columns is for the Thursday night game, the middle for the Sunday night game, and the right most for the Monday night game. All of these games are televised nationally. ESPN owns Monday night, NBC, Sunday night, and Thursday is shared by several networks, so the network is included in the box. All of these games start around 8:30 p.m.

Now we’re ready (I hope) to tackle the two columns on the left. These columns are labeled with a network name, not a day of the week. Every game in both columns starts on Sunday afternoon, either at 1 p.m. ET or 4:05 or 4:30 p.m. ET. The 1 p.m. games are referred to as early games and the 4:05/4:30 games are called late games. The early and late time slots are shown as mini-rows within the weekly row. CBS and Fox divide these games between themselves in a complex, hotly negotiated way. Luckily, we don’t need to understand that. What we do need to know are a couple basic principles. The schedule is set up so that ideally, you should be able to see three games on Fox and CBS in your area each Sunday afternoon. The stations alternate weekends so that one weekend Fox will get to show games in both time slots while CBS shows games in only one and the next weekend will be the opposite. The second principle is that each team’s home games should be shown without competition in their area of the country. This second principle can sometimes override the first and limit the options from three to two.

Okay. Now we’re ready to see the maps and figure out exactly what is happening in your part of the country.

How to use the 506 Sports NFL maps

When you click on a week’s number on the 506 Sports NFL table, you get to a page with three maps. This is where the rubber hits the road. Each map corresponds to a channel and time slot. CBS or Fox, early or late. On a weekend when CBS has the double-header, like this one, there will be a CBS Early and a CBS Late map above a third Fox Single map. The schedulers have attempted to show everyone in the country two games on CBS at 1:00 p.m. ET AND 4:05 or 4:30 p.m. ET and one on Fox at either 1 p.m. ET OR 4:05 or 4:30 p.m. ET.

Within each map, the games in that time and channel are shown in a color-coded key below the map and the areas where they will be shown on TV are filled in with the corresponding color on the map. Most of this will probably make geographic sense.

CBS Early

For example, in the top map, the CBS Early map, we see that the New England vs. Miami game will be shown in all of New England and Florida. Likewise, the yellow Cincinnati Bengals vs. Baltimore Ravens game will be shown in two little puddles around Cincinnati and Baltimore. Some things make less sense, like the strip of land in Texas which has to suffer through the Oakland Raiders vs. Cleveland Browns game or why most of Oregon gets the Indianapolis Colts vs. Tennessee Titans game. Why? Who knows?

An important color to track on these maps is grey. In the first map, the CBS early map, New York City and its surroundings are grayed out. This means they will not get any early game on CBS, even though CBS is the channel with the double-header that day. When this happens, jump down to the bottom map, the Fox single map, and the reason should become clear. Fox has the rights to the New York Jets vs. Philadelphia Eagles game which, as we know from the table, is an early game. The second principle, that teams’ home games deserve to be shown in their area without competition, takes precedence. The Jets game must be shown on Fox at 1 p.m., so CBS cannot provide an alternative to that market. The same principle applies to the other grey areas on the first map: Dallas, Houston, and Charlotte each host early home games on Fox.

Thanks so much for reading,
Ezra Fischer

Are there Super Bowl rematches every week this NFL season?

Dear Sports Fan,

Is it true there will be a rematch of a prior Super Bowl every week this season?


Dear OmitsWordsByAccident,

Not quite every week, but there are a surprising number of them. In all, there are 19 Super Bowl rematches this season, but not every week has one. The large number of rematches is no coincidence, it’s part of the NFL’s promotional campaign to promote this year’s Super Bowl, the league’s 50th. The exact number of the Super Bowl is always a little confusing. For one thing, the league insists on labeling the game with Roman Numerals instead of numbers. Since most of us were not educated in late 19th century elite prep schools, a number like XLVIII (48) is not intuitively obvious. This year, for the 50th, they are going with the number “50” and not just “L”. For a second level of obfuscation, the Super Bowl for each calendar-year season occurs in the next calendar year. When I was writing a series of posts describing what was special about each NFL team, I was never sure whether to refer to a Super Bowl by the year it was in or the year of the regular season it crowned the champion of. Lastly, the numbering is tricky because it’s hard to remember when the first Super Bowl was.

The NFL is much older than 50 years. It’s first year of competition was in 1920, and by 1930, five of today’s teams: the Chicago Bears, Arizona Cardinals, Green Bay Packers, New York Giants, and Detroit Lions were in existence. The reason why the Super Bowl is not 95 years old instead of 50, is that it began specifically as an end-of-season competition between the NFL and a competing league, the American Football League. The American Football League was founded in 1959 and began play in 1960 in direct competition to the NFL. By 1970, the two leagues had merged. So, if you count back 49 from 2016, you should get one of those years – 1960 or 1970 – right? Nope – you get 1967, a year that hasn’t popped up in conversation yet. Why? The NFL and AFL actually agreed on and announced their merger in 1966, it just took four years for them to merge the operations of the leagues and begin playing as one. The one major element of merging that they decided to act on immediately was the creation of what they called the “AFL-NFL World Championship Game“. It wasn’t until the third such game, in 1969 that the game became known as the Super Bowl.

Celebrating past Super Bowls by inserting rematches into this year’s schedule is a nice idea (although it must have been a tricky scheduling feat). Here, taken directly from the Super Bowl 50 website, with my links, are the games:

Thanks for reading,
Ezra Fischer

Why is the MLB baseball season so long?

Dear Sports Fan,

Why is the MLB baseball season so long? Baseball teams play like every day for more than six months. That’s SO MUCH BASEBALL! What’s the point?


Dear Ken,

The Major League Baseball regular season is 162 games. That’s almost twice as long as the NHL ice hockey and NBA basketball schedules. It’s 10 times longer than the 16 game NFL football schedule. It’s harder to compare baseball to soccer leagues whose seasons vary in length from around 30 games to 40 games but whose teams simultaneously compete in a number of other domestic and international competitions and whose players may be called up to play internationally as well. Still, it’s pretty safe to say that baseball seasons involve the most games of any common professional sport.

Baseball has had long seasons for as long as it has been played professionally. In 1876, the first year that professional leagues started mandating the number of games each team should play (before that, they simply gave a minimum but teams could play more games if they wanted) each team played 70 games. By 1901, the first year that the National League and American League both played, the schedule had doubled to 140 games. From there, the number vacillated a bit before moving to 154 in 1920 and then the current 162 in 1961-62. The primary cause for each lengthening of the schedule was team expansion. Up to 1962, the number of games was set by taking the number of possible opponents and multiplying by some number so that each team would play each opposing team 18 or 20 times. Since then, the leagues have sought to retain the same number of games (162) regardless of the number of teams and have done so by changing who teams play and how many times they face each other.

The simplest reason for why baseball seasons are longer than other sports is because they can be. Baseball is not a particularly physically demanding sport. Basketball and hockey’s 82 game seasons engender far more angst about the physical wear and tear on players than baseball’s season which is twice as long. The fact that the most commonly used performance enhancing drug in baseball history has not been steroids, but amphetamines called “greenies” supports the idea that the grind of a long baseball season is more mental than physical. Baseball is mostly a non-contact sport, so its teams can play 162 games in six months and even sometimes twice a day without losing an insupportable percentage of their roster to injury. Bonus fact — I read somewhere that early baseball was more beloved by lower and middle class people and early football by the upper classes because only upper class people had the luxury to risk injury in their recreational activities. Lower and middle class people who worked in more physical occupations couldn’t risk it, so they played baseball.

The other reason for baseball’s long season is that more than any other sport, baseball believes in large sample sizes to determine the best team. At its simplest, baseball is a series of one on one encounters between a pitcher and a hitter. Each game has around 60 to 70 of these contests. The long season provides a greater significance to the statistics produced by each player and each team and baseball is all about statistics! No sport cares more about its records – who is leading in each meaningful statistical category each year and in history. Of course, this is a bit of a chicken or the egg argument. It’s possible that baseball’s reverence for statistics comes from its long seasons and not the other way around.

Baseball’s long schedule gives following the sport a decidedly different feel from being a fan of any other sport. A favorite baseball team is like a friend you can rely on. They’re there almost every night. Baseball fans don’t need to schedule time to spend with their team, they can just use baseball to fill up any down time in their social schedule. Baseball remains one of the few sports that people still listen to on the radio, not just because its action is simple and slow enough to easily imagine but also because the number of games in a season mean that no single game demands full and undivided attention. Going to see a baseball game in person is far easier and more affordable because there are so many games. In so many ways, baseball’s plentiful schedule has molded it into the pastime that so many people enjoy.

Thanks for the question,
Ezra Fischer