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How Does the NFL Preseason Work? Schedules, Rosters & Everything to Know For 2024

As the 2024 NFL Season looms, let's take a look at the role of the preseason. 

By Matthew Jackson

We're still more than a month away from the arrival of the 2024 NFL regular season, which launches September 5 on NBC, but the action is already starting for each of the 32 teams set to compete for a championship. The draft is over, contracts and trades are firming up, and coaches are making decisions about who'll carry their teams forward in the coming months. 

And in just a few more weeks, things will get even more exciting with the arrival of the preseason, three weeks of exhibition games ahead of the regular season and official NFL action. So, with football on the horizon, let's take a closer look at those early exhibitions. What is the preseason? How does it work? Here's a quick guide.

2024 Nfl Lions

What Is the NFL Preseason?

The NFL Preseason period is marked by roughly three weeks of exhibition games between the league's 32 teams. These games do not count on the teams' official records for the season, and are often played between teams in different conferences, giving fans a chance to watch matchups they'd otherwise rarely see during the regular season. 

RELATED: How Does the NFL Draft Work?

When does the 2024 NFL Preseason Start?

The preseason traditionally begins with the annual Hall of Fame Game at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. This year's Hall of Fame Game will be held on August 1 between the Chicago Bears and the Houston Texans, the day before this year's Hall of Fame Class will be enshrined. 

The rest of the preseason games will begin August 8 at various NFL stadiums around the country, and continue for three consecutive weekends leading up to the regular season kickoff. 

How Does the Preseason Schedule Work?

Garrett Wilson of the New York Jets celebrates after a long gain

While the NFL regular season schedule is precisely and carefully determined solely by a group of league executives, the preseason schedule is at least slightly looser, and determined in part by the teams themselves. As we've already mentioned, it's a chance to see teams who don't often play each other in the regular season match up, which means you'll see a lot of NFC teams playing a lot of AFC teams. You'll also often see a lot of regional games to limit team travel, as well as some intra-state rivalries for a little extra fun.

RELATED: Who's Playing on Sunday Night Football This Season?

Of course, the final decision always rests with the league, but for years now team owners and staffs have been able to negotiate their positions for preseason matchups, taking potential games to the league for final approval. As the schedule comes together, the league ensures that each team will host at least one preseason game, and spreads out the schedule across the previously mentioned three weekends. 

So, what does all this mean for the players?

Miles Sanders #26 of the Philadelphia Eagles stiff arms Dre Greenlaw #57 of the San Francisco 49ers

Why Is the NFL Preseason important?

Beginning in July, all 32 NFL teams will assemble at practice facilities for training camp, which is exactly what it sounds like. This is where each coaching staff begins turning their group of players into a team, and includes everything from athletic drills to playbook lessons and tests of individual skill players. 

But of course, training camp can only take you so far, so the NFL preseason serves as a kind of extension of that practice setting. In the first week of the preseason, you'll see teams running their most basic plays and schemes, spreading out the action among veterans and rookies, and basically just trying to get everyone to work together. By the end of the preseason, the plays are more complex, the rosters more firm, and the starters for each team more clear. It's a three-week forge that completes the team-building. 

RELATED: The Complete 2024-2025 NFL Schedule

Unfortunately, those three weeks are also a make-or-break moment for a lot of players. There are battles for starting positions, of course, but there are also battles for who gets to stay and who gets cut. In preseason, each NFL team is allowed up to 90 players on its roster, including new draft picks, new free agent signings, trades, and of course veterans of the team who are hoping to stick around one more year. By the end of the preseason, that roster has to shrink to just 53 players, and all 53 contracts have to fit into a predetermined salary cap. That means hard decisions have to be made by the final cut day of August 27, and the preseason is the place where those choices take shape. 

So you see, the preseason is a vital piece of the NFL season puzzle. It might always be full-speed, all-out football, but if you're wondering how your favorite team gets in fighting shape for the regular season, it's worth tuning in. 

It all leads up to NFL Kickoff Week, kicking off September 5 on NBC as the Baltimore Ravens take on the Kansas City Chiefs. 

For more NFL news and updates, head over to NBC Sports.

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