NFL on Christmas Day

NFL games on Christmas

Games held by the National Football League (NFL) on Christmas Day, December 25, are an occasional part of the league's schedule. In contrast to Thanksgiving Day games, however, they have not been an annual occurrence, since Thanksgiving is always on a Thursday while Christmas can fall on any day of the week. The NFL held two Divisional Playoff games on Christmas Day in 1971 when the regular season only spanned a 14-week period. This proved unpopular, and the league avoided any more games on Christmas Day until 1989. Since then, the league has played occasional Christmas Day and/or Christmas Eve games in certain years, as part of week 16 or 17 of the regular season.

As of the end of the 2023 season, there have been 30 Christmas Day games in the NFL's history, all broadcast nationally. Two games were played each Christmas Day from 2004 to 2006, 2016 to 2017, and 2021 (and will do so again in 2024). In 2022 and 2023, three games were scheduled.

Previously, the NFL had typically scheduled games on Christmas Day if it fell on a Saturday, Sunday, or Monday. Beginning in 2020, the league has scheduled at least one Christmas game every season, even when the holiday falls on a day in which the NFL does not usually schedule games.

If Christmas Day falls on a Sunday, then the normal slate of Sunday afternoon games is instead played on Saturday, Christmas Eve, and one of the Christmas Day games will include the standard Sunday Night Football telecast. When Christmas Day falls on a Monday, the normal slate of Sunday afternoon games is still played on Christmas Eve, and Monday Night Football on Christmas night, but the Sunday Night Football telecast has been moved to either Monday afternoon or to Saturday, December 23.

History

Early years

In the earliest days of professional football, the season typically ended near the end of November (marquee games were often played on Thanksgiving) or in the first week of December, depending on the team; exhibition games would then be held in the winter. Once league schedules were standardized in the 1930s, the NFL Championship Game was typically held in mid-December. The 1943 NFL Championship Game, played on December 26 of that year because of scheduling complications brought on by World War II, was the first regulation NFL game to be played on or after Christmas.

From 1943 until the 1970 AFL-NFL Merger, the NFL regular season usually ended in mid-December, with the NFL Championship Game being held on the Sunday two weeks later. If that Sunday fell on Christmas Day December 25, the league preferred to move it to the following day, Monday, December 26; this rescheduling occurred for both the 1955 and the 1960 championship games.

The American Football League (AFL) compensated differently: the 1960 championship game was moved back by a full week, being played on New Year's Day 1961, with Christmas Sunday being an off-week. (The NFL's 1966 championship game was also held on Sunday, January 1, 1967, two weeks after the end of the regular season.) New Year's Day was an available day since the college bowl games are moved back to Monday, January 2 in years in which January 1 falls on a Sunday. The AFL had scheduled the 1966 championship game for Monday afternoon December 26, but when the two leagues agreed to merge in 1970 and play a "World Championship game" starting with the 1966 season, the AFL game was moved back to Sunday, January 1.

1971 Divisional Playoffs

The first NFL games actually played on December 25 came after the merger, during the 1971–72 NFL playoffs. The first two games of the Divisional Playoff Round were held on Christmas Day; the first of these was between the Dallas Cowboys and the Minnesota Vikings, while the second of the two contests played that afternoon, the Miami Dolphins versus the Kansas City Chiefs, wound up being the longest game in NFL history.[1] Because of the length of the latter game, the NFL received numerous complaints, reportedly due to the fact that it caused havoc with Christmas dinners around the nation. The league also came under fire from some quarters for intruding on a traditional religious and family holiday, and a Kansas state legislator proposed a bill to ban the scheduling of future games on December 25.[2][3] As a result, the NFL decided to not schedule any Christmas Day games for the next 17 seasons.

1972–1988: Avoiding Christmas Day

This required considerable effort during those years in which Christmas Day fell on a Saturday or a Sunday, given that ordinarily those days would be days in which NFL playoff games were to be held.

In 1976, the NFL opened its regular season a week earlier than would have ordinarily been the case (September 12, the second Sunday of the month, rather than the customary third Sunday) so that the Divisional Playoffs could be held on December 18 and 19 instead of December 25 and 26, and thus no games would be needed on Saturday, December 25 (Super Bowl XI was subsequently played on January 9, the earliest date in Super Bowl history).

In 1977, with Christmas Day falling on a Sunday, the Divisional Playoff Games were held around the holiday, with an AFC doubleheader on Saturday, December 24, and an NFC doubleheader on Monday, December 26. This was done so that one team did not have a two-day rest advantage over the other for the Conference Championship games (the NFL only allowed one-day rest advantages). This scheduling resulted in most of the country missing the majority of the first quarter of the Pittsburgh SteelersDenver Broncos game telecast (beginning at 4:00 p.m. EST), since the early AFC game that Saturday (Oakland RaidersBaltimore Colts, beginning at 12:30 p.m. EST) went into double overtime; with an ordinary schedule of one game from each conference, viewers would have had the option of switching channels (or using a VCR) but in this case NBC simply stayed with the Raiders–Colts game (except in the Pittsburgh and Denver markets) and had to overlap its telecasts.

The NFL continued to avoid Christmas Day even after it started to extend the length of the regular season and the playoffs. The league expanded to a 16-game regular season and a 10-team playoff tournament in 1978, but it was not until 1982 that the regular season ended after Christmas Day. It was originally scheduled to end on Sunday, December 26 of that year, but the regular season was extended to Sunday, January 2, 1983 after the 57-day NFL players' strike reduced the season from 16 games to 9; the NFL compensated by extending the regular season one week and eliminating the off week between the conference championships and the Super Bowl.

In 1983 and again in 1988, the NFL split the first round Wild Card Playoffs between Saturday, December 24 and Monday, December 26 to avoid a Christmas Day game.

Had the United States Football League (USFL) survived to play its autumn 1986 season, it would have featured the first major professional football games to be played in the regular season on Christmas Day; the USFL planned a complete set of four games for Christmas Day.[4] The USFL suspended operations prior to the 1986 season and the games were never played.

1989–2019: Occasional regular season games on Christmas Day

Finally, in 1989, the NFL tried another Christmas Day game, Cincinnati at Minnesota, but it was a 9:00 p.m. EST Monday Night Football contest on ABC, thereby avoiding interfering with family dinners. The NFL pushed the regular season back one week in 1989 as a one-off experiment, meaning Christmas Day would fall during the last week of the regular season instead of the first round of the playoffs. The league added a bye week to its schedule in 1990, making Christmas Day permanently fall during the regular season. In the years since, the NFL has played an occasional late-afternoon or night game on the holiday, but the league did not schedule a Christmas Day game starting earlier than 3:30 p.m. local time (for either participating team) from 1971 through 2021.

When Christmas Day landed on a Thursday (which last occurred in 2014) no games were scheduled even though the league normally schedules games on Thursdays. This was because it landed in Week 17 , which was the final week of the season until the season was extended in 2021 (since then there was a Thursday Night game on the week of Christmas). The next time Christmas Day falls on a Thursday will be in 2025, which will be the second-to-last week of the season.[5]

The league also played rare Friday games on Christmas Day in 2009 and 2020, both of which were considered special editions of Thursday Night Football.[6][7]

2020–present: Annual Christmas Day games

The league has staged at least one Christmas Day game each season since 2020, even in years in which Christmas Day falls on a day the league typically does not play.

With December 25 again falling on a Sunday in 2022, the NFL scheduled three Christmas Day games for the first time. These were the first Christmas Day games since 2021 when the NFL expanded from a 16-game schedule to 17 games, putting the holiday to the third-to-last week of the regular season. The 2022 Christmas Day games consisted of single contests for each Sunday network -- Fox at the 1:00 p.m. ET early slot, CBS in the late game slot at 4:30 p.m. ET, and Sunday Night Football.[8][9] The CBS game included an alternate, youth-oriented broadcast on sister network Nickelodeon, after having previously aired Wild Card games in such a manner.[10]

Under the NFL's next round of television deals, which began in 2023 and will run through 2033, Fox acquired the rights to air special Christmas Day games as the schedule permits. These special Christmas Day games are in addition to standard primetime games on Christmas Day (such as Sunday Night Football and Monday Night Football in years in which Christmas Day lands on those days).[11] With December 25 landing on a Monday in 2023, the league scheduled another tripleheader, once again consisting of national CBS and Fox games, along with Monday Night Football.[12] For the second consecutive season, Nickelodeon aired an alternate, youth-oriented broadcast of CBS's game.[13]

With December 25 landing on a Wednesday in 2024, the league told The Wall Street Journal in December 2023 that it would not play games when Christmas Day falls on Tuesdays or Wednesdays.[14][15] However, on March 26, 2024, the NFL reversed course and announced that there would be two games played on Christmas in 2024.[16]

All-time results

1971 Divisional Round

Season Visiting team Score Home team Significance Location TV
1971 Dallas Cowboys 20–12 Minnesota Vikings Cowboys–Vikings rivalry Metropolitan Stadium CBS[17]
Miami Dolphins 27–24 (2OT) Kansas City Chiefs Municipal Stadium NBC[18]

Regular season

Season Visiting team Score Home team Significance Location TV
1989 Cincinnati Bengals 21–29 Minnesota Vikings Metrodome ABC[19]
1993 Houston Oilers 10–7 San Francisco 49ers Candlestick Park NBC[20]
1994 Detroit Lions 20–27 Miami Dolphins Joe Robbie Stadium ESPN[21]
1995 Dallas Cowboys 37–13 Arizona Cardinals Sun Devil Stadium ABC[22]
1999 Denver Broncos 17–7 Detroit Lions Pontiac Silverdome CBS[23]
2000 Dallas Cowboys 0–31 Tennessee Titans Adelphia Coliseum ABC[24]
2004 Oakland Raiders 30–31 Kansas City Chiefs Chiefs–Raiders rivalry Arrowhead Stadium CBS[25]
Denver Broncos 37–16 Tennessee Titans The Coliseum ESPN[26]
2005 Chicago Bears 24–17 Green Bay Packers Bears–Packers rivalry Lambeau Field Fox[27]
Minnesota Vikings 23–30 Baltimore Ravens M&T Bank Stadium ESPN[28]
2006 Philadelphia Eagles 23–7 Dallas Cowboys Cowboys–Eagles rivalry Texas Stadium NBC[29]
New York Jets 13–10 Miami Dolphins Dolphins–Jets rivalry Dolphin Stadium ESPN[30]
2009 San Diego Chargers 42–17 Tennessee Titans LP Field NFLN[31]
2010 Dallas Cowboys 26–27 Arizona Cardinals University of Phoenix Stadium NFLN[32]
2011 Chicago Bears 21–35 Green Bay Packers Bears–Packers rivalry Lambeau Field NBC[33]
2016 Baltimore Ravens 27–31 Pittsburgh Steelers Ravens–Steelers rivalry Heinz Field NFLN[34]
Denver Broncos 10–33 Kansas City Chiefs Broncos–Chiefs rivalry Arrowhead Stadium NBC[35]
2017 Pittsburgh Steelers 34–6 Houston Texans NRG Stadium NBC/NFLN[36]
Oakland Raiders 10–19 Philadelphia Eagles Lincoln Financial Field ESPN[37]
2020 Minnesota Vikings 33–52 New Orleans Saints Saints–Vikings rivalry Mercedes-Benz Superdome Fox/NFLN[38]
2021 Cleveland Browns 22–24 Green Bay Packers Lambeau Field Fox/NFLN[39]
Indianapolis Colts 22–16 Arizona Cardinals State Farm Stadium NFLN[40]
2022 Green Bay Packers 26–20 Miami Dolphins Hard Rock Stadium Fox[41]
Denver Broncos 14–51 Los Angeles Rams SoFi Stadium CBS/Nick[42]
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 19–16 (OT) Arizona Cardinals State Farm Stadium NBC[43]
2023 Las Vegas Raiders 20–14 Kansas City Chiefs Chiefs–Raiders rivalry Arrowhead Stadium CBS/Nick[44]
New York Giants 25–33 Philadelphia Eagles Eagles–Giants rivalry Lincoln Financial Field Fox[45]
Baltimore Ravens 33–19 San Francisco 49ers Levi's Stadium ABC[46]
2024 Kansas City Chiefs Pittsburgh Steelers Acrisure Stadium Netflix
Baltimore Ravens Houston Texans NRG Stadium Netflix

Christmas Day standings

By franchise (through the 2023 games)

Team Games played Wins Losses Ties Win %
Philadelphia Eagles 3 3 0 0 1.000
Pittsburgh Steelers 2 2 0 0 1.000
Indianapolis Colts 1 1 0 0 1.000
Los Angeles Chargers 1 1 0 0 1.000
Los Angeles Rams 1 1 0 0 1.000
New Orleans Saints 1 1 0 0 1.000
New York Jets 1 1 0 0 1.000
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1 1 0 0 1.000
Green Bay Packers 4 3 1 0 .750
Baltimore Ravens 3 2 1 0 .667
Denver Broncos 4 2 2 0 .500
Kansas City Chiefs 4 2 2 0 .500
Miami Dolphins 4 2 2 0 .500
Tennessee Titans 4 2 2 0 .500
Chicago Bears 2 1 1 0 .500
Dallas Cowboys 5 2 3 0 .400
Las Vegas Raiders 3 1 2 0 .333
Arizona Cardinals 4 1 3 0 .250
Minnesota Vikings 4 1 3 0 .250
Cincinnati Bengals 1 0 1 0 .000
Cleveland Browns 1 0 1 0 .000
Houston Texans 1 0 1 0 .000
New York Giants 1 0 1 0 .000
Detroit Lions 2 0 2 0 .000
San Francisco 49ers 2 0 2 0 .000

References

  1. ^ Ho Ho Ho! The NFL on Christmas History
  2. ^ "NFL Playoffs on Christmas Draw Protests Across Land". Los Angeles Times. 1971-12-17.
  3. ^ Eldridge, Larry (1971-12-22). "The football grinch who stole Christmas". The Christian Science Monitor.
  4. ^ "1986 USFL Schedule - USFL (United States Football League)".
  5. ^ "NFL.com | Official Site of the National Football League". NFL.com. Retrieved 2024-01-26.
  6. ^ "2020 NFL schedule includes rare Friday game as Christmas Day surprise in Week 16". CBSSports.com. Retrieved 2022-05-12.
  7. ^ "NFL's schedule features twists". Los Angeles Times. 2009-04-15. Retrieved 2022-05-12.
  8. ^ "The NFL is reportedly planning on a Christmas Day tripleheader this year". Awful Announcing. 2022-04-22. Retrieved 2022-04-22.
  9. ^ Florio, Mike (2022-04-22). "NFL plans a Christmas Day triple-header, for the first time ever". ProFootballTalk. Retrieved 2022-04-22.
  10. ^ Bromberg, Nick (May 10, 2022). "2022 NFL schedule: Rams will host Russell Wilson and Broncos as part of Christmas tripleheader". Yahoo! Sports. Retrieved May 10, 2022.
  11. ^ "Fox Corporation Announces New Eleven-Year Media Rights Agreement with the National Football League". PR News Wire. Retrieved March 31, 2021.
  12. ^ "2023 NFL schedule release: Tripleheaders highlight Thanksgiving, Christmas Day slates". NFL.com. Retrieved May 11, 2023.
  13. ^ "2023 NFL schedule release: Chiefs to headline Nickelodeon's special 'Nickmas' game on Christmas Day". CBS Sports. Retrieved August 16, 2023.
  14. ^ Beaton, Andrew (December 22, 2023). "The Year the NFL Stole Christmas". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved December 28, 2023.
  15. ^ Florio, Mike (December 22, 2023). "NFL claims it won't schedule Christmas games when December 25 lands on a Tuesday or Wednesday". Pro Football Talk. Retrieved December 28, 2023.
  16. ^ "Sources: NFL to play on Christmas Day Wednesday in 2024". ESPN. March 26, 2024. Retrieved March 26, 2024.
  17. ^ "Divisional Round - Dallas Cowboys at Minnesota Vikings - December 25th, 1971". Pro-Football-Reference.com. Retrieved 2022-06-09.
  18. ^ "Divisional Round - Miami Dolphins at Kansas City Chiefs - December 25th, 1971". Pro-Football-Reference.com. Retrieved 2022-06-09.
  19. ^ "Cincinnati Bengals at Minnesota Vikings - December 25th, 1989". Pro-Football-Reference.com. Retrieved 2022-06-09.
  20. ^ "Houston Oilers at San Francisco 49ers - December 25th, 1993". Pro-Football-Reference.com. Retrieved 2022-06-09.
  21. ^ "Detroit Lions at Miami Dolphins - December 25th, 1994". Pro-Football-Reference.com. Retrieved 2022-06-09.
  22. ^ "Dallas Cowboys at Arizona Cardinals - December 25th, 1995". Pro-Football-Reference.com. Retrieved 2022-06-09.
  23. ^ "Denver Broncos at Detroit Lions - December 25th, 1999". Pro-Football-Reference.com. Retrieved 2022-06-09.
  24. ^ "Dallas Cowboys at Tennessee Titans - December 25th, 2000". Pro-Football-Reference.com. Retrieved 2022-06-09.
  25. ^ "Oakland Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs - December 25th, 2004". Pro-Football-Reference.com. Retrieved 2022-06-09.
  26. ^ "Denver Broncos at Tennessee Titans - December 25th, 2004". Pro-Football-Reference.com. Retrieved 2022-06-09.
  27. ^ "Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers - December 25th, 2005". Pro-Football-Reference.com. Retrieved 2022-06-09.
  28. ^ "Minnesota Vikings at Baltimore Ravens - December 25th, 2005". Pro-Football-Reference.com. Retrieved 2022-06-09.
  29. ^ "Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys - December 25th, 2006". Pro-Football-Reference.com. Retrieved 2022-06-09.
  30. ^ "New York Jets at Miami Dolphins - December 25th, 2006". Pro-Football-Reference.com. Retrieved 2022-06-09.
  31. ^ "San Diego Chargers at Tennessee Titans - December 25th, 2009". Pro-Football-Reference.com. Retrieved 2022-06-09.
  32. ^ "Dallas Cowboys at Arizona Cardinals - December 25th, 2010". Pro-Football-Reference.com. Retrieved 2022-06-09.
  33. ^ "Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers - December 25th, 2011". Pro-Football-Reference.com. Retrieved 2022-06-09.
  34. ^ "Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers - December 25th, 2016". Pro-Football-Reference.com. Retrieved 2022-06-09.
  35. ^ "Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs - December 25th, 2016". Pro-Football-Reference.com. Retrieved 2022-06-09.
  36. ^ "Pittsburgh Steelers at Houston Texans - December 25th, 2017". Pro-Football-Reference.com. Retrieved 2022-06-09.
  37. ^ "Oakland Raiders at Philadelphia Eagles - December 25th, 2017". Pro-Football-Reference.com. Retrieved 2022-06-09.
  38. ^ "Minnesota Vikings at New Orleans Saints - December 25th, 2020". Pro-Football-Reference.com. Retrieved 2022-06-09.
  39. ^ "Cleveland Browns at Green Bay Packers - December 25th, 2021". Pro-Football-Reference.com. Retrieved 2022-06-09.
  40. ^ "Indianapolis Colts at Arizona Cardinals - December 25th, 2021". Pro-Football-Reference.com. Retrieved 2022-06-09.
  41. ^ "Green Bay Packers at Miami Dolphins - December 25th, 2022". Pro-Football-Reference.com. Retrieved 2022-12-26.
  42. ^ "Denver Broncos at Los Angeles Rams - December 25th, 2022". Pro-Football-Reference.com. Retrieved 2022-12-26.
  43. ^ "Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Arizona Cardinals - December 25th, 2022". Pro-Football-Reference.com. Retrieved 2022-12-26.
  44. ^ "Las Vegas Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs - December 25th, 2023". Pro-Football-Reference.com. Retrieved 2023-12-27.
  45. ^ "New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles - December 25th, 2023". Pro-Football-Reference.com. Retrieved 2023-12-27.
  46. ^ "Baltimore Ravens at San Francisco 49ers - December 25th, 2023". Pro-Football-Reference.com. Retrieved 2023-12-27.
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