Sunday Night Football 2012: Week-by-Week Matchups, Predictions, TV Info & More
Sunday Night Football kicks off its schedule with an intriguing matchup between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Denver Broncos. The 16 weeks that follow are sure to include some marquee games as well, especially once the flex scheduling begins.
All games will begin at 8:20 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on NBC. Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth will provide the commentary. The games for the final eight weeks of the season can be changed to a more meaningful game, if necessary.
The initial schedule for SNF has been released aside from Week 17. The NFL and NBC wait until the week of the game to pick out the game with the most immediate playoff implications. It makes for plenty of drama to end the season.
Let's take an early look at each of the Sunday Night Football games as they stand now and make predictions for how they will turn out.
Week 1: Steelers at Broncos
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Judging by the preseason, Peyton Manning is ready to roll after missing an entire season due to a neck injury. He has potentially elite options in Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker on the outside. The Denver Broncos defense should also benefit from an improved offensive attack.
Not many people are talking about the Pittsburgh Steelers as the season approaches, even though they return most of their key pieces. The division is getting tougher, but there's no reason to believe the Steelers won't be right back in the AFC North title mix.
All eyes will be on Manning throughout the game. The physical Pittsburgh defense will hit him early and often to see how he holds up. While it's just the first SNF game of the season, don't be surprised if it ends up among the best.
Prediction: Broncos 20, Steelers 17
Week 2: Lions at 49ers
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The Detroit Lions aren't going to surprise anybody in 2012. After carving up defenses at an impressive rate last season, Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson should be in line for another monster season. The key will be the defense, which hasn't matched the offense's improvement.
Speaking of surprises, not many people expected the San Francisco 49ers to go 13-3 last season. A dominant defense, led by Patrick Willis, and a more efficient offense helped the team cruise to the NFC West title. They hope to match that result this season.
It's a matchup between one of the league's most explosive offenses and one of the best defenses. The winner will be decided by which unit is able to set the tone early. Playing at home gives San Francisco a chance to do exactly that.
Prediction: 49ers 24, Lions 20
Week 3: Patriots at Ravens
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The New England Patriots have so many weapons on offense it's almost unfair. Tom Brady is terrific, but when you give him four options capable of taking over a game, stopping him becomes nearly impossible.
Don't expect the Baltimore Ravens to go down easily, though. They didn't lose a single game at home last season and will also be seeking revenge after the Patriots knocked them out of the playoffs. So there should be no shortage of motivation.
They key will be New England's defense. It's a unit that doesn't lack overall talent, but struggled to make big stops last season. With Baltimore's more balanced approach, that could be an issue. It should be another close SNF game.
Prediction: Patriots 31, Ravens 27
Week 4: Giants at Eagles
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The defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants should be over any potential title hangover by the time this game rolls around. They are still one of the most complete teams in the NFL, and the pass-rush alone will keep them in most games.
Michael Vick is already dealing with some damaged ribs. The Philadelphia Eagles can't afford for him to miss much time since he's so crucial to the offense, which makes the early injury concerning. At least the defense should be reliable.
Every divisional game between NFC East teams will carry plenty of significance. The fight for the top spot will likely go right down to the final week, so it's important to win these games before things get too close for comfort later on.
Prediction: Eagles 23, Giants 21
Week 5: Chargers at Saints
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The San Diego Chargers have constantly underperformed in recent seasons. And with the rest of the AFC West showing signs of getting better, the Chargers have even less margin for error in 2012. That puts a lot of pressure on polarizing head coach Norv Turner.
Things haven't exactly gone smoothly for the New Orleans Saints either. Between the bounty scandal and the suspension that came from it, the team enters the season with a lot of question marks. Drew Brees should make sure the offense doesn't miss a beat after getting a new deal.
By the time Week 5 arrives, fans should have a pretty good idea what to expect from the Saints after enduring so much turmoil. The Superdome is always rocking for night games and should help propel the Saints in this game.
Prediction: Saints 31, Chargers 21
Week 6: Packers at Texans
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After flirting with a perfect season in 2011, the Green Bay Packers proceeded to lose their first playoff game. Much like the Patriots, the Packers offense will be deadly, but the defense must come up with stops to make it pay off.
On the flip side, the Houston Texans are an interesting sleeper team. They play in a division without a truly dominant team, and if their offensive stars like Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson can stay healthy, the Texans are capable of filling that hole.
This clash has shootout written all over it if the playmakers on both sides are healthy. Even though Schaub is being underrated heading into the new season, Rodgers is still the choice in a game where each offensive drive will be key.
Prediction: Packers 38, Texans 31
Week 7: Steelers at Bengals
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The Pittsburgh Steelers return to the bright lights of Sunday Night Football in Week 7. It will be interesting to see what the Steelers backfield looks like at this point with Isaac Redman leading the way early but usual starter Rashard Mendenhall on his way back.
Andy Dalton is looking to build off a successful rookie season. The Cincinnati Bengals have a tougher schedule outside of division play this season, which means Dalton and Co. will have to improve on their 2-4 mark against the AFC North to make the playoffs again.
Last season, the Steelers won both meeting between the two teams, and it wouldn't be surprising to see them do it again. They are a more complete team right now even though the Bengals do have a nice foundation in place.
Prediction: Steelers 27, Bengals 14
Week 8: Saints at Broncos
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A manageable early-season schedule should allow the New Orleans Saints to enter this game with a record around 5-1. They will also be just two weeks removed for their bye, which will come at a good time given all the attention surrounding them.
While the Denver Broncos have a much tougher start to the season, Peyton Manning's health should have a pretty clear outlook by the midway point. The Broncos will be coming right off their bye as well, so there will be no advantage in that area.
Since the schedule makers didn't do them any favors, this is likely to become a far more important game for the Broncos than the Saints. That desperation should help Denver pick up the win in a high-scoring game.
Prediction: Broncos 34, Saints 31
Week 9: Cowboys at Falcons
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It's always tough to predict what to expect from the Dallas Cowboys. Based on talent alone, they should be a playoff team on yearly basis. But the combination of a tough division and tremendous pressure has thrown a wrench into those plans quite a bit lately.
The Atlanta Falcons face questions of their own. Most notably, is this finally the year everything comes together and they compete for a spot in the Super Bowl? The pieces are in place, but a lot will depend on Matt Ryan taking his game to an elite level.
There's a pretty good chance this game will have a pretty major impact on the wild card race. The most important unit will be the Falcons defense, which needs to keep Dallas' numerous weapons in check to pull out the victory.
Prediction: Falcons 27, Cowboys 24
Week 10: Texans at Bears
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The Houston Texans' second appearance on SNF is against another NFC North foe. By this point in the season, the Texans should be positioning themselves to start running away with the division. If not, something went wrong in the first nine weeks.
If the Brandon Marshall acquisition has the type of impact most people are expecting, the Chicago Bears offense should be one of the most improved units in the league. It gives Jay Cutler a true top target and should leave more room for Matt Forte.
Since this game will feature two top running backs in Arian Foster and Matt Forte, as well as two good defenses, it should be a low-scoring affair. The teams are pretty similar overall, which should make for an enjoyable game.
Prediction: Bears 17, Texans 13
Week 11: Ravens at Steelers
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The Sunday Night Football schedule wouldn't be complete without at least one of the games between these two hard-hitting teams. It's developed into a great rivalry, and this season shouldn't be any different as they battle atop the AFC North.
After making nice strides in each of his first three seasons, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco took a step back last season. He needs to get back on track in 2012, but has always had some success against the vaunted Steelers defense.
Since this will represent the first game in a span of three weeks between the teams, it wouldn't be a surprise to see the defenses be even more physical than usual knowing another game is right around the corner. It should be a brawl.
Prediction: Steelers 14, Ravens 10
Week 12: Packers at Giants
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The Green Bay Packers will enter this clash seeking revenge. It was the New York Giants who derailed their promising season in January, and although a win wouldn't erase the pain of that loss, it will at least make a statement about this season.
Since the New York Giants can rush the passer so effectively, they present a challenge the Packers don't see from basically any other team. Having played them twice last season, Aaron Rodgers should be more prepared for the pressure, though.
Neither team should expect to waltz to the playoffs, meaning this game should still have an impact on the standing of both sides. Look for another back-and-forth game with the quarterback who gets the ball last winning the game.
Prediction: Packers 28, Giants 24
Week 13: Eagles at Cowboys
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The biggest question facing the Philadelphia Eagles heading into the season is if Nick Foles or Trent Edwards has to start this, or another, big game, can they still win? Michael Vick is dynamic when he's on the field, but is always an injury risk.
Since the Dallas Cowboys have three tough games in the final four weeks following this game, it will be important they take care of business if they want to have any breathing room. As mentioned before, every NFC East game will be important.
Neither team has shown enough consistency in recent years to run away with the division, but both have enough talent to make noise in the playoffs if they made it. Just like the New York Giants last year. That's why these games are so marketable.
Prediction: Cowboys 34, Eagles 28
Week 14: Lions at Packers
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For a long time, there's no chance this game would have been in prime-time. That shows how far the Detroit Lions have come in the past year. Not only are they featured a couple times on SNF, but they are given a spot during a crucial period of the season.
It will be a good measuring stick game for the Lions. The Green Bay Packers are once again among the favorites to reach the Super Bowl, so Detroit can go on the road and see if it's on the same level or if more improvements are needed before playoff time.
Ultimately, this is another game where points should be plentiful. Matthew Stafford against Aaron Rodgers might eventually become the next Tom Brady against Peyton Manning, and the NFC North rivals are guaranteed to play twice per year.
Prediction: Packers 35, Lions 28
Week 15: 49ers at Patriots
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The San Francisco 49ers defense doesn't exactly draw the most promising SNF matchups. After facing the Detroit Lions earlier in the season, now they have to face the New England Patriots. That's a tough draw for prime-time.
By this point, it would be a surprise if the Patriots aren't clinched in the AFC East. The Buffalo Bills have a chance to hang with them for a while, but eventually, New England should pull away to earn yet another division crown.
There's a chance this game ends up getting flexed out of the spot because both teams will be in such good shape. If not, look for the Patriots offense to find enough holes in the 49ers secondary to pick up the victory.
Prediction: Patriots 28, 49ers 14
Week 16: Chargers at Jets
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The best part about every football season is the unpredictably. As it stands before Week 1, there's a chance the San Diego Chargers could enter this game in first place and a nearly equal chance they enter it in last place.
For the New York Jets, the extremes aren't as wide. They should finish second or third in the AFC East, but the season won't be considered a success unless they make the playoffs. New York hopes it still has a chance by the time Week 16 arrives.
The odds are pretty good this game will get flexed out unless it has direct wild card implications. Based on how the Jets offense has looked, that doesn't seem likely. It won't be an exciting game, either. Expect a change.
Prediction: Chargers 14, Jets 13