The NFL released its 2013 regular season schedule, complete with all the big games, rivalries and most importantly -- if you do my job -- TV assignments.
This is the last year of an old television contract before everything goes nuts in 2014. There'll be more flexing available to NBC, and the opportunity for CBS and Fox to trade games. It'll be cats and dogs living in harmony and all that, but that's thankfully 12 months away.
We're going to look at both the NFL's big event slate, as well as a network-by-network take to see how everybody did in creating yet another likely insanely-rated football season. Only three-and-a-half months until pre-season, eh?
The big headline, of course, is that the NFL couldn't get the Ravens at home to start the season, as has been the most recent tradition, due to scheduling conflicts with the Orioles. So Baltimore will open up the 2013 season on the road, as they take on Peyton Manning and the Broncos on NBC Thursday, Sept. 5. The actual banner-raising and return home for Baltimore will be a lower-profile affair, as the Ravens host Cleveland on Sunday, Sept. 15. That'll be a mere 1 p.m. ET CBS regional telecast.
The Sunday Night Football opener is Giants vs. Cowboys, which... okay. That's still a pretty good rivalry, but it marks the second consecutive season NBC has opened with two games featuring either the Giants, Cowboys or Broncos. The only variable this season is the Ravens.
The first Fox late window of the season -- and the first time we all roll our eyes at the game being called America's Game of the Week -- features Packers vs. 49ers and Cardinals vs. Rams, with Green Bay and San Francisco obviously getting the larger distribution. That'll be in Week 1 on Sept. 8.
CBS' first late window comes in Week 2 on Sept. 15. That will be Manning Bowl III (and a regional telecast between the Jaguars and Raiders, but, come on). It's the first time NBC hasn't gotten their mitts on the Peyton vs. Eli drama. This time around, it'll be Jim Nantz and Phil Simms. The Internet will be so pleased.
Monday Night Football debuts with the now-traditional doubleheader on Sept. 9. The Eagles visit the Redskins in what will hopefully feature RGIII and not Kirk Cousins vs. Nick Foles. ESPN and the NFL have never bothered too much to really program the second game of the doubleheader that well, but Texans vs. Chargers isn't a total loss.
Thanksgiving features what looks like a really good game, a really bad game, and one that could go either way on paper. Ravens vs. Steelers was a solid call by NBC for their second-annual Thanksgiving night game. Packers vs. Lions on Fox should be an okay opener. But yeesh, who's getting fired for putting the Raiders in Dallas for the late afternoon game? Does the NFL know something we don't? That one could be really brutal.
The NFL doubles its efforts in London in 2013, with the Steelers taking on the Vikings and 49ers playing the Jaguars. At least one of those has a shot at being a decent game.
Sunday Night Football returns for its eighth season on NBC and they have a pretty good slate, despite the unimaginative opening weekend. Remembering that, after Week 10, all matchups could be flexed out, this still seems like a really decent schedule.
Everything through Week 9 appears to be a crackerjack tilt: 49ers-Seahawks and Cowboys-Saints are probably the two weakest games among those that cannot be flexed, and those are excellent matchups. Bears-Steelers, Patriots-Falcons, Texans-49ers are three straight terrific interconference games. Redskins-Cowboys, Colts-Texans and Packers-Vikings will be huge divisional rivalry showdowns. Broncos-Colts has the Manning-Luck storyline.
In fact, there's only one game out of the six potential flex games I could see getting taken away: Cincinnati-Pittsburgh in Week 15. Broncos-Patriots in Week 12 features yet another Brady-Manning showdown. Giants-Redskins gives you the Eli-RGIII matchup. Even Falcons-Packers will feature a really decent QB battle. Patriots-Ravens was a fun one on Sunday night last year, in that it was one of those games that the replacement refs had a small hand in. Overall though, NBC's schedule is pretty awesome for 2013.
ESPN has been slowly but surely making Monday Night Football more high-profile. You could probably argue they get better games than ESPN used to get for Sunday Night Football, but it still isn't quite near the NBC package, or even the 4 p.m. ET featured games on Fox and CBS. Still, ESPN's slate is okay. That said, they still have two games featuring the Dolphins.
One of those will probably be the worst MNF game of the season, when the Dolphins face in-state rivals Tampa Bay on Nov. 11. A couple other potential stinkers: Raiders-Broncos on Sept. 30, Jets-Falcons on Oct. 7, Patriots-Panthers on Nov. 18, and Ravens-Lions on Dec. 16.
Some excellent matchups are there, however. Eagles-Redskins could be a very intriguing start to the season. A great three-week period of Vikings-Giants, Seahawks-Rams and Bears-Packers during the middle of the season; a Kaepernick-RGIII showdown in Washington on Nov. 25; Cowboys-Bears on Dec. 9; and the finale of Falcons-49ers in a rematch of the NFC Championship Game will make ESPN well worth your time in 2013.
Nobody was denying that NFL Network had the weakest of the three primetime packages last year, and there's still some bona-fide stinkers on NFL Network this season, but the slate is gradually improved for the '13 season.
Jets-Patriots, though it may not be the best of games, will probably be very entertaining. Particularly after the Jets win in Week 1 or something and get their confidence way too high. Chiefs-Eagles will not be great either, but you do have the Andy Reid-in-Philly factor. 49ers-Rams could be intriguing too.
Giants-Bears should be a good one, and gives you the chance for Eli vs. Cutler GIFs. Colts-Titans, Saints-Falcons and Chargers-Broncos could be a trio of solid matches. Redskins-Vikings has a chance to be fun as well.
Then, well, there's the games you can't even deny you'll probably tune out of: Bengals-Dolphins, Bills-Browns, Texans-Jaguars, Panthers-Buccaneers (though if Cam Newton and the Panthers are better, that could be okay). A lot of these NFL Network games will likely hedge on whether or not the football on the field is good rather than the teams on paper.
It is much more difficult to judge Fox and CBS than it is the other three networks, just because the former are airing five or six games a week, while NBC, NFL Network and ESPN is a small package of weekly games that are, ostensibly, made for TV.
That said, there are couple of criteria you can judge Fox's schedule on, and one is their slate of nine America's Game of the Week broadcasts. There's some definite blockbusters among them. Packers-49ers in Week 1, Saints-Patriots in Week 6, Redskins-Broncos in Week 8, 49ers-Saints in Week 11, Cowboys-Giants in Week 12, Seahawks-49ers in Week 14, and Packers-Cowboys in Week 15 all seem like excellent matchups. Don't forget, however, that anything after Week 10 is flexible.
The NFC East leads the NFL in primetime games, with 16. That means the division in the NFC that traditionally brings in the biggest ratings is least available to the network responsible for NFC football. That said, they still get 10 games each of Niners, Cowboys and Bears, and nine each of the Giants, Redskins and Packers. How bad can it be if you've got those plugged in on the schedule?
CBS probably got the biggest victory between themselves and Fox by guaranteeing the third Peyton vs. Eli showdown away from NBC or ESPN. Despite the hype that upsets us all, that game will be huge for them. They get the Giants, Cowboys and Packers twice each this season. Prominent NFC-AFC games are always a big deal for CBS, since the AFC features slightly smaller television markets than the NFC.
Other primo games in the 4:25 p.m. ET slot include: Colts-49ers, Week 3; Broncos-Cowboys, Week 5; Ravens-Steelers, Week 7; Steelers-Patriots, Week 9; Patriots-Texans, Week 13; and Steelers-Packers, Week 16.
One could easily argue that CBS has as good a feature game schedule as Fox, however, where CBS suffers is having to air a ton of the Bills, Browns and Jaguars, three teams both worse record-wise and ratings-wise than any current NFC team.