Hello, NFL fans!
With Super Bowl XLVI and the 2011 NFL season in the books, it's time to look ahead to the 2012 NFL season.
This article puts together a possible schedule of games on Sunday Night Football (SNF) on NBC package, including the NFL Kickoff Game as well as the Thanksgiving night game, which will also air on NBC.
These games are basically the biggest advertisement for the NFL. This could be the only chances for you to see a star from another city (assuming they aren't playing the team in your home market).
Most games on FOX and CBS are regional games. Other than the cable TV games, the only nationally televised games are the NBC games and the two daytime Thanksgiving games.
My goal is to try to create a schedule of the biggest games of the year, one SNF game a week along with the Kickoff Game and the Thanksgiving games.
Now, the other networks did pay good money and you have to give them some good games too. But you want to air good games in the Sunday Night Football (SNF) slots. If a dud game airs on Sunday night, there isn't any other games to switch to.
Before I list the games, let me explain my rationale as to how I chose particular games and dates...
Keep in mind the opponents and sites for next year's games have already been determined. So if you are wondering why can't they feature these two teams playing, they have to actually play each other. For example, you can forget a Super Bowl rematch next season; the Giants and Patriots don't play each other. The dates and times of these games are yet to be determined.
The first part of coming up with the national over the air broadcast schedule is the traditional Detroit and Dallas games on Thanksgiving. With the Thanksgiving night game appearing on NBC rather than the NFL Network, it may be possible that either Dallas or Detroit be offered a chance to move to the night slot. For this schedule, I did not move either game.
In addition, the defending Super Bowl champion plays in the Kickoff Game.
For the purposes of this schedule, I considered the following:
1) No NFL team gets more than three appearances on NBC. Teams can get a fourth NBC game if they are flexed in during the second half of the season or are chosen for the final SNF game of the year.
2) No NFL team should be scheduled for two NBC games within a three-week period.
3) Any matchup between two teams at a particular site from last year's NBC schedule is not included this year—for example, last year's Kickoff Game was New Orleans at Green Bay. Therefore, New Orleans at Green Bay will not appear on this year's schedule. On the other hand, had Green Bay been scheduled to play at New Orleans, that game may appear.
For the purposes of divisional opponents, if Team A hosted Team B in a SNF game, then the only way that matchup appears this year is if Team B hosts the game. Since both Dallas and the New York Giants appeared on NBC last season, neither will appear on NBC this season.
4) An effort was made for cities that have rarely made SNF appearances recently that have had recent success to appear (and host) SNF games.
5) All four September SNF games will be played in cities where the baseball team is away, avoiding a potential conflict of a baseball game and a football game in the same city.
6) An effort was made for cities who have popular and/or good baseball teams from appearing on NBC in October, especially as host.
You don't want a situation where an NFL game and a MLB playoff game are held within a mile or two of each other. You also don't want the Patriots playing on SNF in October at all in case the Red Sox are playing a playoff game that night. You don't want either New York team to possibly conflict with a Yankees playoff game.
Several games in October are divisional matchups that may be moved to the opposing site if there is a baseball conflict.
In addition, I am saving one weekend for the "Peyton Manning game." This will feature whatever team Peyton plays for next season. Should Peyton not play, take your pick as to which game goes in that slot.
So who do I think should play on NBC next year?
Green Bay Packers at New York Giants
The Super Bowl-winning Giants get to host the Kickoff Game.
Potential opponents include their divisional rivals in the Cowboys and Eagles. But the Giants played both of them on Sunday night last season.
The Giants are scheduled to play the Packers next season in the Meadowlands. The game features the last two Super Bowl champions for the second year in a row. It also is a rematch of a playoff game when the 9-7 Giants upset the 15-1 Packers this past season. In addition, the Giants beat the Packers at Lambeau Field on their way to their previous Super Bowl win.
I think it will be a highly anticipated game between two teams that have won four Super Bowls apiece. The Giants play in the biggest market in the country, and the Packers are a very popular team.
Since the Kickoff Game started allowing the reigning Super Bowl champion to host each year, the Super Bowl champion has not lost in the game. If the Packers and Giants play, you might see a possible road win. Remember the Giants were only 9-7 in the regular season and the Packers were 15-1.
Last season, NBC did not get one Tim Tebow game, including on Wild Card Saturday (the NFL gave the Steelers/Broncos game to CBS). In addition, the league kept the Patriots/Broncos regular season game on CBS, denying fans from Philadelphia along with other cities from seeing the game.
Tebowmania was one of the biggest, if not the biggest, story in the NFL this past season, and Tebow's game-winning touchdown pass over the Steelers on the first play of overtime in their playoff game will be remembered for years to come.
So NBC will start off its Sunday Night Football package with the rematch. The Steelers should have this game circled on their calendar regardless of when it is, as they couldn't have liked being eliminated by an 8-8 team on an overtime touchdown pass against their defense that they take great pride in.
New England Patriots at Baltimore Ravens
This is a rematch of last year's AFC Championship Game that came down to a missed final field-goal attempt. Tom Brady said he had a bad game but the Patriots still won on their way to the Super Bowl.
It should be a classic matchup of contrasting styles between the offensive-minded Patriots and the defensive-minded Ravens.
Dallas Cowboys at Atlanta Falcons
This would be the Falcons' only scheduled SNF game. It essentially doubles as a third Dallas game as the Cowboys are one of, if not, the most popular NFL team in America. A Harris Poll found that the Cowboys are the favorite NFL team for the last five years running.
Since Dallas's other two scheduled SNF games are in Dallas, it needed a game outside of Dallas. Since Dallas played SNF games last season in Philadelphia and New York, it needed a non divisional opponent (unless people want to see Dallas play at Washington on SNF).
New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles and Giants have met on Sunday Night Football the last five seasons in a row. With the Giants winning the Super Bowl, a sixth SNF game in six years looks like a strong possibility.
They have alternated as host of the game and next season would be the Eagles' turn to host the game. If it was the Giants' turn to host, it probably is the Kickoff Game.
I'm not sure DeSean Jackson will be on the field during this game, as Eagles head coach Andy Reid benched DeSean for a game last year and Jackson is a free agent this season. I would hope DeSean comes back but the Eagles are well known for being cheap.
This will make fans of many NFL teams angry. Had Jackson not been suspended, the Eagles probably win against Arizona (which was a three-point loss). Assuming all results remain the same, the Eagles would have won the NFC East at 9-7 and the Giants wouldn't have even made the playoffs.
The Phillies are scheduled to be away from home that weekend so the game fits in perfectly.
San Francisco 49ers at New Orleans Saints
The two teams met in an exciting NFC Divisional Game in which four fourth-quarter go-ahead touchdowns were scored. Could we see another shootout between Drew Brees and Alex Smith?
Last season, the 49ers did not play in any SNF games.
This is the first weekend of the Major League Baseball playoffs so New Orleans (which has no MLB team) is as good a place to play this weekend as any. The last two years the Saints played at home during World Series weekend.
Houston has never officially played a game on NBC's SNF. They appeared on NBC during Wild Card Saturday this past season but not in a Sunday night game on NBC.
Last season the Houston Astros lost 106 games. The chances of the Astros making the playoffs do not appear good.
Also, Houston's Reliant Stadium and Minute Maid Park aren't right next to each other, so should both the Astros and Texans have to play, it wouldn't be a complete disaster.
That being said, I scheduled the Texans to play the Colts so, in a worst-case scenario, the game can be switched over to Indianapolis. While I would hate to see Houston lose a chance to host a SNF game, this covers all the bases (Indianapolis has no MLB team).
Even if Peyton Manning does not return to Indianapolis, Andrew Luck may be more of a draw than either of the Texans' other divisional rivals (Tennessee or Jacksonville, assuming Peyton doesn't join either of those teams).
Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals
Cincinnati has never hosted a SNF game in NBC's SNF history. Cris Collinsworth should be happy to call a SNF game in Cincinnati for the first time. It would be Andy Dalton's first SNF game.
Unlike the Astros, the Reds are one year removed from a playoff berth and have a better chance of making the playoffs than Houston. However, this weekend is the second weekend of the National League Championship Series so for this to be a conflict, the Reds need to make the NLCS and have home-field advantage to create a conflict.
As a last resort, this game can be moved to Baltimore. Baltimore plays in the AL East so the odds of them making the playoffs are probably as good as Houston's.
New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers
This is World Series weekend, the third year in a row in which the NFL is playing a regularly scheduled NFL SNF game. If I had my way, the NFL would not play a game this weekend.
New Orleans has hosted the previous two SNF games during the World Series, hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers (the Pirates have a long streak of losing seasons) in 2010 and the Indianapolis Colts (which has no MLB team) in 2011.
It's very likely the host of this game will be a city without a baseball team. Just to have it somewhere other than New Orleans, I gave Carolina this game. I made New Orleans the visiting team since they don't have a baseball team either.
This would be Cam Newton's first SNF game and it will be a high-profile shootout with Brees.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Dallas Cowboys
This matchup features two teams with 11 Super Bowl victories and 16 Super Bowl appearances. They have met each other in three Super Bowls.
Non-conference opponents meet just once every four years, so this is a rare matchup between the two historically successful and very popular teams (last October they were the two most popular teams in the Harris Poll).
This should be the first SNF game after the World Series and it's a terrific "Welcome back to football" game for baseball fans. You'd better watch because, outside of the Super Bowl or preseason, you won't see the two play until 2016.
New York Giants at San Francisco 49ers
Yet another playoff rematch, this being this past season's NFC Championship that went to overtime.
The 49ers and Giants met in the regular season as well. Counting the NFC Championship, it will be the third consecutive game in San Francisco.
Since the 49ers ran away with the NFC West and they would seem to be the overwhelming favorite to repeat in the NFC West, they have to be circling this game on their calendar.
Unknown Peyton Manning Game
The biggest offseason story will be for what team Peyton Manning plays for—if he plays at all.
If Peyton Manning stays with the Colts, the best game for me would be another Colts/Patriots, Peyton/Tom Brady game in Foxboro.
The Colts get home games with the Texans but the Indianapolis/Houston game in Houston is already on the schedule. The Colts could host the Packers, but Green Bay already has two scheduled NBC games on the road (including the Kickoff Game vs. the Giants) so they would need a home game.
Now if Peyton leaves the Colts, the first choice of game would be Peyton vs. the Colts. That would be one of the most anticipated, if not most anticipated, game of next season.
The Colts play each team in their division twice, each team in the AFC East, each team in the NFC North, and Cleveland and Kansas City. In addition to the AFC South rivals, the Miami Dolphins will travel to Indianapolis. The Jets host the Colts.
If Peyton's new team doesn't play the Colts, another top Peyton rival (Tom Brady) or his brother Eli would be a good choice for Peyton's showcase game.
Houston Texans at Detroit Lions
For years, we all cursed when talking about Detroit's automatic Thanksgiving game. But with Matthew Stafford and Ndamukong Suh, Detroit made its first playoff appearance in years.
FOX and CBS have alternated the Lions game and the Cowboys game every other year. Next season is Detroit's turn on CBS. The only way CBS can get either a Detroit or Dallas game is for them to play an AFC opponent.
The only two AFC opponents that Detroit plays at home are Houston and Indianapolis. Should Peyton Manning return to Indianapolis, the Lions may get the game. Otherwise, you have two teams that just ended playoff droughts.
Eventually I think they will have to flip the rotation. If Detroit plays an AFC opponent every other Thanksgiving, they will play teams from the two same divisions while the other opponents would never have a chance at a Thanksgiving game in Detroit.
New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys
Last season, NBC got to air both Giants/Cowboys games including the season finale that decided the NFC East division and was a winner-in, loser-out game.
FOX could not have been happy to lose both games between the Giants from the biggest market in America and "America's Team." So to be fair, I think FOX should get both Dallas/Giants games.
One way to make sure the game still has a national audience is to have it on Thanksgiving. This game would then have a national viewing audience while the game stays on FOX.
Philadelphia Eagles at Pittsburgh Steelers
For the first time ever, NBC is airing a Thanksgiving night NFL game. Previously, the game aired on the NFL Network.
The Thanksgiving game is arguably the best showcase of the NFL all season. Detroit and Dallas are locked into the other Thanksgiving games and the Kickoff Game has the defending Super Bowl champions.
So Thanksgiving night is a great chance to air the matchup of the year like the NBA does on Christmas.
I would say Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady is the matchup I most want to see. But since no one is sure where Peyton will play, that is not an option.
With Peyton vs. Tom up in the air, I asked myself which team that represents the NFL (other than Dallas). I think Pittsburgh is one of the NFL's signature cities so I think they are a great choice for the first Thanksgiving Night game on NBC.
As for the Steelers' opponent, the obvious choice would be Baltimore. The problem is Baltimore just hosted a Thanksgiving game last year. Would the Ravens want to play two Thanksgiving nights in a row?
In addition, the Steelers and Ravens met in Pittsburgh on a SNF game last season (Baltimore won and it led to the Ravens dethroning Pittsburgh as the AFC North champion) so this year's Steelers / Ravens game should be in Baltimore. Besides, do you really want to see a 13-10 game on Thanksgiving night?
As for the remaining Steelers' home games, they don't seem too attractive to me. I think an all Pennsylvania battle is the best choice. The game would pit Ben Roethlisberger and Michael Vick assuming both are healthy.
Denver Broncos at San Diego Chargers
This is the only other scheduled Tim Tebow game. Of the Broncos' pathetic AFC Worst opponents, the Chargers are probably the best one out there. The Raiders have determined that they will fire every head coach that goes 8-8 until they are back to their usual 4-12 self and then they will keep that guy.
I think NBC schedules one game in San Diego each season simply because of the weather (especially late in the season after it gets cold up north). Did anyone even watch the Chargers play Baltimore on NBC last season?
Should Tebow suffer a sophomore slump, this game is screaming "Flex me out." Unfortunately, it's the Sunday after Thanksgiving so there are three Thanksgiving games (and the Monday Night Game) already not eligible to replace this game.
The Chargers haven't been a top team since LT left and are the team that had two Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks leave the team so Philip Rivers can be their quarterback.
Last season, Tebow finished third in Pro Bowl balloting behind Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger but Rivers was chosen for the Pro Bowl instead. I'm not sure Tebow was upset about the snub but I sure was. Maybe Tebow once again goes into San Diego and proves who is the top quarterback in the AFC West (then again, that's not saying much).
San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers
They were the top two seeds in the NFC this past season before the Giants went to Green Bay and San Francisco and beat them both.
This is the Packers' only scheduled home game on NBC. I wanted Detroit to get to host a SNF game so they host the Packers rather than the other way around. Last season, the Packers hosted New Orleans (Kickoff Game) and Chicago (Christmas). So the 49ers game is probably the best remaining home game on Green Bay's schedule.
New York Jets at New England Patriots
As long as Tom Brady is quarterbacking, Bill Belichick is still coaching and Rex Ryan is still running his mouth, expect this to be a high-profile game. Having the New York market doesn't hurt things either. Boston and New York is always a top rivalry regardless of sport.
In 2010, the Jets knocked the Patriots out of the playoffs before New England swept the Jets last season (including a win in the Meadowlands on SNF).
Should Peyton Manning come back, I might move this game to the "Peyton Manning Game" slot (November 18).
Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys
NFC East games always seem to be popular with NBC, especially when they involve a certain NFL team with stars on their helmets. Last year's SNF game in Philadelphia between the two (a blowout win for the Eagles) was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise disappointing season for Philadelphia.
I don't think this game has much chance of being flexed out even if both teams are sub-.500 by this date. Tony Romo missed half of the season a few years back and Cowboys games were still being shown on NBC. I think if I were the quarterback of the Cowboys fans would still watch Cowboys games and Carrie Underwood would show an interest in me.
Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions
This is the last scheduled SNF game (the last week is always chosen at the end of the season).
Detroit played in New Orleans last season on SNF. Assuming the Lions are still good late next year, this will be their first chance to host a SNF game in NBC's history. The game was pushed back because Green Bay was chosen for the Kickoff Game and the Detroit Tigers on paper are one of the best baseball teams in MLB, making an October date a bad idea.
Having the game in December makes it susceptible to being flexed out and I would hope for the city of Detroit that it can keep this game. Then again, even if it loses this game, it always has a national TV audience every Thanksgiving.
The other drawback of this game so late is that Green Bay is a team that just might have clinched home-field advantage by Week 15, making this game meaningless (remember they host New Orleans and San Francisco, the next two highest NFC seeds, next season).
Will Suh get kicked out of another Packers/Lions game?
Total number of appearances on NBC:
Dallas Cowboys (at Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia)
New York Giants (Green Bay (Kickoff), at Philadelphia, at San Francisco)
Philadelphia Eagles (NY Giants, at Pittsburgh (Thanksgiving), at Dallas)
Green Bay Packers (at NY Giants (Kickoff), San Francisco, at Detroit)
San Francisco 49ers (at New Orleans, NY Giants, at Green Bay)
Pittsburgh Steelers (at Denver, at Dallas, Philadelphia (Thanksgiving)
New Orleans Saints (San Francisco, at Carolina)
New England Patriots (at Baltimore, NY Jets)
Baltimore Ravens (New England, at Cincinnati)
Denver Broncos (Pittsburgh, at San Diego)
Atlanta (Dallas), Indianapolis (at Houston), Houston (Indianapolis), Cincinnati (Baltimore), Carolina (New Orleans), San Diego (Denver), Detroit (Green Bay)
Seventeen teams (more than half of the NFL) will make at least one NBC appearance. Of the seventeen, 16 will play a home game. Only the Dallas Cowboys will host two NBC games.
San Francisco, Carolina, Cincinnati and Houston didn't play a SNF game last season. All four are scheduled for a home game next season. Detroit would get a home game (last season, they played a SNF game at New Orleans).