The NFL Schedule was officially released last week as the league did a job well done in making it an event even though we already knew the opponents.
The travel schedules, bye weeks, and rough stretches were all announced in the first year we get a 17-game season, so, naturally, analysts are already jumping ahead of themselves to predict every team’s record 4 months before the actual games begin.
No one knows what variables could be in play to mess up what we think we know about how well each team will perform.
What we DO know, however, are the big-time matchups on primetime television: the Thursday Night, Sunday Night, and Monday Night nationally-televised games.
While we can’t really react to the strengths of the schedule just yet, we can react to what we’ll all be watching intently with no other games on.
Here are the takeaways.
1) They Were Merciful With Us on the NFC East Games
Every year, because of the large markets and fan base following, we are smothered with NFC East rivalry games under the lights no matter how good the actual teams are. Last year the division champion Washington Football Team went 7-9. That’s not exactly what I would define as “exciting football.”
Granted, this year, all four teams will be more intriguing this year in one way or the other – the Cowboys will have Dak back, the Giants have filled out their roster around Daniel Jones, the Football Team signed Fitzmagic, and the Eagles will get their first full season of Jalen Hurts and their new coach, Nick Sirianni. Still, it feels as if they shove these matchups down our throats time after time. I’ve become accustomed to assuming that the week one Sunday Night Football matchup will inevitably be Giants-Cowboys because of how often it happens.
This year, it appears that the schedule makers might have gotten the hint after the division champ lost more games than it won last year. The Cowboys always get Thanksgiving, but they got 5, the Giants and Football Team got 3, and Philly got 2. However, we only get three total inter-divisional matchups- Washington-New York on Thursday Week 2, Eagles-Cowboys on Monday in Week 3, and Washington-Dallas on Sunday Week 16.
Credit to the schedule-makers for at least trying to diversify the high-stakes games this year.
2) Less Saints, Please
The Saints have the maximum amount of primetime games this year at 5- Week 7 on Monday at Seattle, the Thanksgiving night game against the Bills Week 12, ANOTHER Thursday game the following Week 13 against the Cowboys, Week 15 on Sunday Night against the Bucs, and Week 16 Monday night against the Dolphins.
The Saints have been living on our television screens for years, especially the past several seasons where the primetime games have captured Drew Brees breaking some sort of passing record. But Drew Brees is no longer the quarterback of the Saints- it’s going to be Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill. They have a very talented team surrounding the successor to the franchise’s greatest player in their history, and Sean Payton is 8-1 without Brees over the last two years, but five primetime games is very high for a team that may not make the playoffs. The last time we saw Jameis play a full season, he threw 30 interceptions in Tampa only for his team to win the Super Bowl immediately after he left.
A lot of these primetime games are later in the season, too, so there could be games with higher stakes going on between other teams that would be more exciting than Payton experimenting with Taysom Hill. They have one of the most raucous home environments in sports in games under the lights in the Superdome, but now that Brees is gone, we could have used a little bit of a break to see if they’re still the exciting Saints of old.
3) We Might Need More Denver and Less Green Bay
Aaron Rodgers might never play for the Packers ever again after the offseason Mexican standoff the quarterback and the organization are currently entrenched in, so much to the point where he might rather host Jeopardy! Full-time before putting on the green and yellow.
As Aaron grew up on the west coast, he has an actress fiancee who will need to act on the west. The Packers likely won’t want to deal him to an opponent in the NFC; the Broncos, who have essentially every spot on their team filled except a tandem of mediocrity at quarterback between Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Lock, have emerged as favorites to trade for him.
The problem? Green Bay has 5 primetime games AND a Christmas Day game. They would all be fantastic if Aaron was there, of course, but if he’s firm in holding out or gets moved, we could be seeing a lot of either Jordan Love or Blake Bortles for the Packers. The Broncos only have one primetime game, and if he ends up in Denver, he’ll be what we all want to see.
4) Enough With the New Stadiums
The NFL will have 8 primetime games in LA and Vegas, the shiny new billion-dollar mega coliseums that were supposed to debut with fans last year, Sofi Stadium and Allegiant Stadium.
The NFL is just salivating to promote the glitz and the glam of these luxurious spaceships with fancy domes, private nightclubs, and the home of future concerts and events to show off how astronomical their operation has become. There will be so many camera segments pregame touring the amenities from the Monday Night Football crew or Al and Cris walking around and touring the places.
I’m all for promoting the product, but call me a curmudgeon for wanting to see some football under the lights on the grass in a cold climate with bundled-up fans in the stands rather than the guys in suits drinking bloody marys in the Vegas club section on Sunday Night Football. The Super Bowl is already going to be in Sofi this year, and the draft will be in Vegas next year, so we’re approaching NFC East-level territory here.*
*This also applies to the Thanksgiving games too. All three are indoors this year! I get that the Lions and the Cowboys play in their domes every year, and the Saints were the selected home team, but let them play outside once a year, so we get that feeling of crisp, fall air on the screen with some foliage score bug graphics while we’re indoors amongst family eating turkey.
5) Give Us More Rookie and Sophomore Quarterback Games
This NFL draft was defined by the quarterbacks selected, and over the past few seasons, we’ve seen how quickly the younger quarterbacks have impacted franchises turning around. Most of the time, you get drafted into a weaker surrounding team, but if the NFL really wants to grow the league, put the new, budding young faces on the big screen rather than just the big market teams.
The Jets drafted Zach Wilson, and the Bengals have Joe Burrow, and they each only have one game. Jalen Hurts and Tua will only have two games. Justin Herbert and the Chargers and Mac Jones on the Pats will each have three, but if Mac doesn’t start until later in the season, we could potentially only see him twice. The same scenario could happen with Justin Fields in Chicago, who gets four, including the Sunday Night opener against the Rams in LA, but it would be a very “Bears” thing to do to start Andy Dalton in that game.
6) …Except for Trevor Lawrence
Trevor Lawrence and the Jags only have one primetime game, and that’s exactly how it should be. It just feels right to see those golden locks in teal on the TV when it’s a humid 97 degrees at noon with shots of Floridians in the pool at their stadium.
Something would just look off seeing Jacksonville under the lights for a snow game in Foxboro.
7) The League Is Doing Right by the Browns
In 2019, when the Baker Mayfield got every commercial on television, and Odell Beckham posed for a Sports Illustrated cover with the title “The BROWNS Are Back,” they became media darlings with astronomical expectations only to have a meme-level embarrassing season, highlighted by going 6-10, firing head coach Freddie Kitchens after one season, and Myles Garrett attempting to decapitate Mason Rudolph with a helmet. It certainly didn’t do them any favors in the media with Baker constantly on our TVs.
Last year, with Freddie out of the building and the media hype away from them, new coach Kevin Stefanski looks like he fixed the offense entirely with his offensive scheme as they went 11-5, snapped the longest active postseason drought in the NFL, and bludgeoned their rival Steelers in the playoffs in a game no one thought they could win (Stefanski, four coaches, a lineman, two corners, and a receiver had COVID) to get their first playoff win in 26 years. Then, the following week, they had the Chiefs on the ropes in a hard-fought game.
They had a great draft and offseason and now feel like they have every hole filled on their roster. As a complete team in the AFC, their potential has never been higher. And, now that they come off as a very smart organization, we appreciate Baker’s acting chops and humor!
But they don’t want us to talk about it.
The Browns only get three primetime games and a Christmas Day game, which came as a surprise to some given their massive following and the reality that they could be playing for it all this year. To Cleveland, that could very well be what they need! They perform their best in the “no one believes in us” role, and flying under the radar to pump the brakes on the media hype will allow the team to just go out and play football.
It wasn’t fair to put the hype around a team with a sophomore quarterback still learning the game under Freddie Kitchens in 2019 after having only gotten 8 total wins in 3 seasons as a team. The NFL gave us just enough Browns to see their electric team without having a media circus travel with them week after week to derail their year.
Featured Image: Brevin Townsell/Los Angeles Rams