The Chargers are all over the map.
The Rams are finally on the map.
Coming off their first playoff appearance in 13 years, the Rams will get their turn in the spotlight this season with some high-profile games, including hosting the first Thursday night game in the new Fox package.
The Rams won’t wander too far from home, either. After racking up the NFL’s most frequent-flyer miles in each of the last two seasons, they don’t go farther east than Detroit.
They can lend their suitcases to the Chargers, who not only have a London game but play at Buffalo, Cleveland and Pittsburgh.
All that was revealed Thursday as the NFL announced its 2018 schedule, which comprises 256 games over 17 weeks.
The league relied on roughly 1,000 computers worldwide — four times as many as in years past — to churn through as many schedules as possible to produce the right one. There are hundreds of trillions of combinations, considering there are eight time slots, five networks and four possible game days each week.
“I’d like to think one of the nice things about this schedule is that there are really no onerous team issues,” Howard Katz, the NFL’s senior vice president of broadcasting, said by phone.
“We made all of our club calls today. Any time anybody said, ‘Ouch,’ it was over something fairly minor. Certainly, every schedule has issues, but nothing really substantial where somebody says, ‘My God, how could you possibly do that to us?’ We got none of that this year.”
The scheduling process is incredibly complex, and Katz and his team of executives — Michael North, Blake Jones, and Charlotte Carey — spend the better part of four months holed up working in a secure room on the fifth floor of the league’s Park Avenue headquarters. The room has frosted opaque windows, soundproof walls, encrypted computers, and can be accessed only by a special key card. Even Commissioner Roger Goodell has to knock.
Once devised by hand by legendary league executive Val Pinchbeck, the schedule is now crunched via a cloud-based system that uses a massive network of computers, some based in Arizona, Europe and Iceland, and across the Hudson River in New Jersey.
“We were able to search a lot wider than we normally do,” said North, senior director of broadcast planning. “But it also made it a little tougher because generally in years past, we would get on a path and keep going down that path. This year, because we had so much more hardware at our disposal, we were able to widen the net in terms of what we were able to search.”
For instance, everyone knew that the Philadelphia Eagles, as Super Bowl champions, would host the kickoff opener. But there were recent inaccurate reports that the Eagles would open against the Minnesota Vikings.
While it’s true that the NFL looked hard at kicking off with that Viking-Eagles game, the league instead decided on the Atlanta Falcons playing at Philadelphia. The New York Giants and Carolina Panthers were also possible road teams for the season opener.
“Because we had all the extra hardware, we were able to split the servers into clusters and say, ‘This group of computers will work on Atlanta-Philly for kickoff, this group will work on Vikings-Philly, this group will work on Panthers-Philly,’” North said. “Whichever group had a schedule where we were making good progress … that’s the path we were willing to go down.”
Some of the interesting elements of this schedule:
- The Chargers asked that they get an East Coast game immediately before their trip London. They will play at Cleveland.
- Fox, which signed on for five years of Thursday night games, will get some high-quality inventory for those, including the Green Bay at Seattle, Minnesota at the Rams and New Orleans at Dallas.
- The Rams, the Coliseum, and USC athletic director Lynn Swann were instrumental in landing that Thursday night game, which will be tricky with USC in session.
- For only the second time since 1970, all three games on Thanksgiving Day will be divisional matchups, with Chicago at Detroit, Washington at Dallas and Atlanta at New Orleans.
- The Jacksonville Jaguars, who are on the rise and advanced to the AFC title game, host a Sunday night game and twice are in the CBS national doubleheader spot.
- In addition to getting Seattle versus Oakland, and the Chargers vs. Tennessee, London gets an excellent matchup in Eagles-Jaguars.
- The arrow is pointing up for the 49ers-Rams rivalry, and the league is acknowledging that. The Rams visit Santa Clara in Week 7 on “Sunday Night Football.”
Follow Sam Farmer on Twitter @LATimesfarmer