In what is perhaps the worst kept secret in all of sports (unless you ask Duffy’s), the NFL announced today that the entire 2012 schedule will be released tomorrow – Tuesday – at 7 PM ET, coinciding with a special on NFL Network. ESPN will air their own special devoted to the schedule release, as well.
And with the complete 2012 NFL schedule comes a bigger primetime picture.
The additional six primetime games are made possible by NFL Network’s “Thursday Night Football” package expanding from eight games to thirteen, with the Thanksgiving night game, carried on NFL Network since they began telecasting regular season NFL games, airing on NBC effective this year. As part of this deal, commissioner Roger Goodell guaranteed that all 32 teams would play at least one primetime game every year.
Which means the five teams that were snubbed by the night spotlight - Arizona Cardinals, Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers, Cincinnati Bengals and Tennessee Titans – will somehow be ready for primetime in 2012.
But this post isn’t about the teams privileged to play primetime games – but rather, the ones that will be perhaps too privileged.
In 2011, there were a grand total of 42 scheduled primetime games, not counting the Week 17 “Sunday Night Football” season finale on NBC. Of these 42 games, 25 of them involved six teams that were awarded five primetime games each: the New York Jets, the Baltimore Ravens, the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Indianapolis Colts, the Philadelphia Eagles and, despite their 6-10 record the previous season, the Dallas Cowboys. Of course, one of these games, the Colts/Patriots contest originally scheduled for Sunday night, December 4 on NBC, was flexed back to CBS in exchange for Lions/Saints – so by virtue of that maneuver, the Saints ended up getting five primetime games. And of course, the Cowboys/Giants season finale was flexed to Week 17, effectively giving the Cowboys a total of six primetime games in 2011.
So it’s obvious that an NFL team playing six primetime games in a season can be done. But with more primetime games to spread around, what are the odds that one team – maybe two – end up getting six games on the 2012 scheduled for primetime? According to NFL rules, a maximum of three teams can make as many as six primetime appearances in a single season.
So when you factor in the Colts clearly not getting five primetime games in 2012, and perhaps ditto for the Bountygate-suspension-plagued Saints, you get the sense that with an expanded primetime menu, while all 32 teams will be guaranteed at least one game, not only will some teams get more primetime exposure – particularly one playing with a future Hall of Fame quarterback for the first time – but teams that have already been experiencing the ultimate primetime exposure, in the form of five games, will be ripe for a sixth primetime game.
And no matter how wishy-washy Rex Ryan may be about an encore on HBO’s “Hard Knocks,” whether he likes it or not, his Jets team will be featured in six primetime games when the schedule is finally released on Tuesday.
You read me right: I predict that the New York Jets will get more primetime games this season than the New York Giants, who won the previous Super Bowl! And it isn’t just the Rex Ryan factor, but it’s definitely the Tim Tebow factor. The team says they plan to get Tebow involved with a large number of plays in each game, but if you figure he gains the starting job halfway through the season, it’s possible most of the Jets’ primetime games will be played in the second half of 2012.
And yes, among this six-pack of prime-timers will be the lone primetime game that the Jaguars will play in 2012. That game will probably be on ESPN or perhaps NFL Network. In fact, here are the six teams that the Jets might be facing under the lights this season: 49ers, Chargers, Texans (home); Jaguars, Patriots, Steelers (away).
And here’s another bold prediction: Not only will the Jets be maxing out on primetime appearances when the initial 2012 schedule is released, but there will be a second team to follow suit – because, remember, you can have up to three teams playing six primetime games in a single season – and that second team would be the team that the Jets opened up their 2011 campaign against, fittingly in primetime: The Dallas Cowboys.
There’s a reason why the Cowboys are labeled “America’s Team”: because America watches them in droves. In fact, that September 11 Jets/Cowboys contest on NBC last year ended up being the most-watched edition of “Sunday Night Football” – that is, until the final game of the regular season, which also involved the Cowboys. In fact, the six top-rated “Sunday Night Football” games featured the Cowboys. The NFL knows what it’s doing by scheduling the Cowboys against the Giants to open the season on September 5. The league knows it cannot do wrong by scheduling the season opener for the Cowboys on NBC in primetime for three years in a row.
That’s why when I analyzed the “leaked” 2012 NFL schedule, which the leaker since confessed to creating himself, my jaw hit the floor when I found that there were no Cowboys games in the plans on NFL Network. And historically, Cowboys games on NFL Network were played on Saturday nights. The ‘Boys are no stranger to Thursday games – why, we watch them every Thanksgiving as we fill ourselves up with turkey and brussels sprouts. I suppose NFL teams can only play one Thursday game per season? Well, in the event that’s not set in stone, you can certainly put me down for a Cowboys six-pack.
The Cowboys’ half dozen primetime games might play like this: At home, they’ll host the Redskins and Steelers, but they’ll play four primetime games on the road: the Bengals, the Eagles, the Falcons, and of course, the season opener against the World Champion Giants. Bonus prediction: On Thanksgiving, the Cowboys will play the Bears.
As previously mentioned, I predict the Giants will receive less primetime games than their Metlife Stadium mates, the Jets, despite winning the big game back in February. They’ll get five. As will the Eagles, Packers, Patriots and Ravens.
Then, there’s the Denver Broncos. I’m literally on the fence as far as whether or not Peyton Manning’s new team will play four primetime games or five. But I can guarantee that two home games against the Steelers and the Texans are shoo-ins for primetime clearance. I liked the Broncos opening up the 2012 campaign with Manning under center for the first time on “Sunday Night Football” against the Texans, the team that ended his personal consecutive games started streak, when the fake 2012 NFL schedule came out a few weeks ago. I’d like it to happen for real when the actual 2012 NFL schedule is released. And while the Broncos eliminated the Steelers from last year’s playoffs behind Tim Tebow, who of course is no longer with the team, those “playoff elimination revenge” gamea are always entertaining. And then there’s another playoff rematch from last year – that Broncos road game in New England. Who knew that NBC and CBS would both be smitten by Tebowmania last year and squabble over the carriage of a regular season game between these two teams. But with Peyton Manning involved, it’s a whole new ballgame. Yes, the quarterback rivalry between Manning and Tom Brady that had shone during all of those Patriots/Colts contests begins a new era when Manning represents the Broncos. With CBS carrying the previous two matchups between these two teams in the Tebow era, the least that the NFL can do is give this game to NBC. They could wisely schedule it in the late fall, which is when Brady and Manning usually square off, or they could make this the “SNF” season opener on September 9. Either way, look for that game to end up on NBC. It’s only fair. Heck, maybe it could be the Thanksgiving night game. In fact, that matchup on Thanksgiving night might just break all existing Cowboys primetime game records.
And yes, the Patriots will also host the Colts in a game this season… This would be a perfect Monday night game for ESPN.
With all 32 NFL teams guaranteed at least one primetime game starting this year, it would be quite perplexing to come up with which opponents will make up their night contests (well, most of them; see: Jets/Jaguars). So I won’t go through that much trouble. I mean, Buccaneers/Raiders as a Monday night game on ESPN looked good when that false schedule came out, but then again, the league can throw a lateral and put Buccaneers/Cowboys in primetime for the second year in a row.
But with an expanded number of primetime games to be played, don’t be surprised if you see one team – perhaps two – under the lights a little more.