There is but 213 days until the 2013-14 NFL season kicks off.
Not like we’re the only ones keeping track, or anything.
But with not even a single game scheduled (sans the two games taking place in London) for the upcoming NFL season – the entirely of which is slated to be released in mid-April (and that hasn’t stopped me in predicting which games will be played this upcoming Thanksgiving) – this much is true: Your Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens will open the season with a “kickoff” game airing on Thursday, September 5, on NBC.
The question is, who will their opponent be?
In the seven years that NBC has aired the season kickoff game, only two of those games were divisional matchups: New York Giants/Washington Redskins in 2008, and the Giants’ Wednesday night loss to the Dallas Cowboys last year. Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Steelers have appeared in two of the three games that the AFC team winning the previous year’s big game have hosted the “kickoff” game in the ensuing year. Yet the Steelers, in their fifteen appearances on “Sunday Night Football,” have played the Ravens on “SNF” at least once during the last four seasons; the Ravens hosted the Steelers in 2009 and 2010; the Ravens would then win both subsequent “SNF” matchups against the Steelers at Heinz Field in 2011 and 2012.
So it’s very conceivable to think that the Ravens will host their division rival Steelers at M&T Bank Stadium on NBC, when the 2013-14 season kicks off.
But let’s look at the rest of the opponents the Ravens will be facing at home for the remainder of the year. Right away, we can count out the other AFC North foes, the Cincinnati Bengals and the Cleveland Browns. With AFC North teams scheduled to play interconference games against the NFC North division, the Ravens are due to host the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings, both of whom made the playoffs this past season.
Then, there’s the rest of the slate of AFC teams that will be traveling to Baltimore next season: the New York Jets, the New England Patriots and the Houston Texans.
If the Jets were not undergoing their current image problems (read: had they made the playoffs), you could make an argument for them being the Ravens’ first opponent of the year, given Jets head coach Rex Ryan’s previous ties with the Ravens. In fact, both teams had opened up their respective 2010 campaigns on “Monday Night Football.”
But then you have the Patriots and the Texans, two teams that the Ravens had met in the playoffs in recent years: in the 2011-12 playoffs, they defeated the Texans, en route to a crucial missed field goal sealing a loss to the Patriots in Foxboro – a loss, of course, that the Ravens would avenge in the Patriots’ house just a few weeks ago.
On paper, a Patriots/Ravens game would immediately blow a Steelers/Ravens game out of the water as your season opener. And the fact that the Ravens and Patriots both faced each other in the playoffs over the past two years, combined with the Ravens just recently winning it all, would add to the storylines for such a game. People are already drawing conclusions as to whether or not Joe Flacco is a better quarterback than Tom Brady, and that discussion is sure to continue through the offseason – and a culmination on the Thursday night primetime stage would be something that the NFL would want.
But would CBS stand for it? Each year, the NFL’s broadcast partners file requests for “protected games.” And with CBS possessing an owned-and-operated broadcast affiliate in both Boston and Baltimore, to have a game that could be lucrative to the network as a juicy late-game broadcast taken away for airing on NBC, may not sit well with the Eye Network. (CBS also has an O&O in Pittsburgh, but the Ravens and Steelers play each other two times per year.)
You already know how influential Patriots owner Robert Kraft is, and how he wielded his power when the league had considered moving a Broncos/Patriots telecast from CBS to “Sunday Night Football” on NBC at the height of “Tebowmania” (yes, CBS also has an O&O in Denver).
To me, the strong favorite for the 2013-14 season opener would be Patriots/Ravens, as it should. But should CBS have a problem with that, then it’ll likely be Steelers/Ravens. I mean, it’s as if they’re destined to play another game on NBC this year by default, so you may as well upgrade it to a season kickoff game. And consider this: all four Steelers/Ravens games played on NBC over the last four seasons have been decided by a single field goal. The Ravens have won three of four, including the aforementioned road victories in Pittsburgh. NBC would be guaranteed a close game – which, in turn, equals great ratings.
And did I mention that the Patriots were actually flexed out of a few “Sunday Night Football” broadcasts?
It’ll probably be Big Ben Roethlisberger vs. “F—ing Awesome” Joe Flacco to kick off the 2013-14 season.
Or will it be Flacco vs. Tom Brady?
Which would you rather want as the 2013-14 season opener? Post your thoughts in the comments below.