2012 NFL Schedule Predictions: Patriots vs. Jets Would Be Great 1st MNF Game
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We can all agree that Monday Night Football had an awful run last season. ESPN did a terrible job at predicting the seasons that teams would have and getting the premier games every week. Due to the opening double-header, there were 17 games last season played on Monday nights. Of those 17 games, can you guess how many featured two playoff teams?
The answer is three. Just three weeks did ESPN get a matchup featuring two teams headed to the postseason.
Eighty-two percent of the time you tuned in to watch the famous Monday Night Football broadcast with Mike Tirico, John Gruden and Ron Jaworski, the game didn't feature two playoff teams. Ideally, ESPN would like to have that number shrink drastically. In fact, seven of the 17 games featured zero playoff-bound teams.
A lot of this had to to with the failure of a few franchises who were predicted to have much better seasons—namely San Diego, Tampa Bay, Philadelphia, the New York Jets and Peyton Manning's neck.
To fans, MNF has become an afterthought. ESPN needs to step up its programming to compete with the stellar NBC broadcasts on Sunday nights. Their first move to get interest flowing was removing "Jaws" from the booth and leaving it as a two-man operation with Gruden and Tirico, just like Sunday night's setup.
The next move will be choosing the opening game. Last season's doubleheader was led by a game between the New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins and followed by the nightcap between the Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos BT (Before Tebow).
Neither were necessarily bad choices. Tom Brady put on a hell of a show while scorching the Dolphins defense for 517 yards and four scores. That was followed up by a tight contest at Mile High Stadium, which featured a big game from Darren McFadden.
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Focusing solely on that opening game, who should be the two teams this season?
Going with an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" approach, ESPN should make bringing Brady and the Pats back their top priority. If it weren't for TB12's near-perfect performance, last season's opener was a bit of a snore-fest.
You have to bring back the most polarizing franchise in football. From the top to the bottom, New England is television gold. At the head, there would be no NFL last season without Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who is always in his box seat with his camera-friendly family. They are coming off of yet another Super Bowl appearance and loss, in one of the better championship games in recent memory.
The only other quarterbacks one can consider on par with Brady's popularity and talent are Drew Brees (ESPN should want no part of the Saints disaster) and Aaron Rodgers (who was discount-doublechecked right out of the playoffs in his first game).
As much as Eli Manning has impressed, he just doesn't have the casual-fan draw that Brady does. New England also has the one-man media parade of Rob Gronkowski and perhaps the most universally loved-despised head coach in NFL history in Bill Belichick.
If you want to make an opening-week splash, you bring back the New England Patriots.
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Who to have them faceoff against is obviously not up to ESPN, but the NFL schedule makers. However, if it were up to them, the pool of possibilities is pretty limited. You would have to throw in the Jets, Pittsburgh Steelers, New York Giants, Green Bay Packers, Baltimore Ravens and Denver Broncos AT.
Narrowing it down, due to the greatest connection and casual-fan grabbing ability, the choices are Denver and NYJ.
The return of Peyton Manning is obviously a huge storyline that would be fantastic television. Couple that with him returning against his biggest rival of the past 10 years, Brady and the Pats, and you have a ratings goldmine. There couldn't be any bigger story than Manning's return against New England, could there?
Normally, no there couldn't be. However this year there is, and the ideal MNF opening game would be between Brady's Patriots and the New York Jets.
Obviously there is no way of telling who will be the starting QB for the Jets, but the Tebow factor is an enormous draw for casual fans either way.
According to Business Insider, last season's mid-December contest between Tebow's Broncos and the Patriots drew a 19.5 rating, CBS' highest in five years. Tebow followed that up by earning CBS a 25.9 in the wild-card round against Pittsburgh, according to the Wall Street Journal.
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Ratings aggregator Zap2it.com reported that 28 million viewers tuned in to watch the Broncos battle the Patriots in last season's playoff game.
The list of reasons this game should be the premier choice is way longer than need be mentioned so here is a snapshot of the storylines.
Tom Brady after another Super Bowl loss to the Giants.
Division rivalry: AFC East
Bill Belichick vs. Rex Ryan
Boston vs. New York
Tie-ins to some of last season's biggest media events: the Super Bowl, the Manning signing and the Tebow trade.
In reality, there are plenty of good matchups that ESPN could choose to open their MNF slate with. After last season's disappointing lineup, there is no question what game would take fans' minds off sitting through Indianapolis-Tampa Bay and Saint Louis-Seattle. They have to open with the New York Jets and the New England Patriots, so everybody cross your fingers.
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