Why is the NFL playing on Christmas? History & more to know about rare Dec. 25 football games

People know that the NBA plays on Christmas, but whenever the NFL shows up to ruin the party, it leaves everyone a little confused.

That’s the case in 2020, as the Saints host the Vikings on Christmas Day. It’s a Friday leading into Week 16 of the NFL season, so it turned out to be a solid scheduling opportunity for the NFL to get a matchup of Drew Brees and Kirk Cousins to compete for the NBA’s viewership. The NFL has more teams than total games played on Christmas in its history, so it’s a relatively rare occurrence and the first time since 2017 that there’ll be an NFL game on Dec. 25.

Here are more of the details about the NFL scheduling a 2020 game for Christmas, along with some history of pro football on Christmas Day. 

Why is the NFL playing on Christmas Day?

There isn’t one standalone reason that the NFL is playing on Christmas Day. The league plays on Dec. 25 every few years, and the action returns in 2020 with Saints vs. Vikings at 4:30 p.m. ET on Christmas.

It’s often easy to point to money and attention with the NFL, but that’s certainly a big part of it. Especially with the COVID-19 pandemic limiting travel, there’ll be lots of people at home looking for things to watch, and if they don’t like basketball, football might be the best option. The game was scheduled for Christmas well in advance and likely wasn’t because of the pandemic, but the NFL will take all the viewers it can get.

The league chose not to play on Christmas Eve, which falls in the usual “Thursday Night Football” slot in 2020, and instead scheduled Saints-Vikings for Christmas Day. That, at least, was a conscious decision. It falls in line with much of the rest of sports not competing on Dec. 24, including the NBA and both men’s and women’s college basketball.

How often does the NFL play on Christmas?

The Saints vs. Vikings game will be the 22nd NFL game played on Christmas Day, according to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The most recent, prior to 2020, were two games played in 2017, won by the Steelers over the Texans and Eagles over the Raiders.

The NFL first played on Christmas in 1971, a game featuring the Cowboys and Vikings. Dallas has played five times on Dec. 25, the most of any team in NFL history.

The 2020 participants have a varied Christmas history. Minnesota played in that first-ever Christmas Day game, losing to the Cowboys, and has since played on the holiday twice more for an overall 1-2 record. Conversely, the Saints will be playing their first Christmas game in 2020. 

NFL schedule Week 16

Friday, Dec. 25

Saturday, Dec. 26

Sunday, Dec. 27

Monday, Dec. 28

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