Hello, NFL fans!
According to the NFL website, the 2013 NFL schedule will be revealed Thursday evening.
While many fans await their favorite team's schedule, others look for marquee games between top opponents and/or between rivals.
Most NFL games on Sunday afternoon are regional, so many top games will be unavailable in some markets. The NFL probably will want to have marquee games appearing in prime time, especially on Sunday Night Football (most other prime-time games appear on cable).
While many of the top games should appear on NBC, others will be given to Fox and CBS just to balance it out. Also, there is a limit to national television appearances.
This article will list games I think would be good for NBC's Sunday Night Football package, including the Kickoff Game and Thanksgiving Night game. I also will suggest Thanksgiving afternoon games for Fox and CBS as they also are national TV games.
Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers
Normally, the defending Super Bowl champions begin the season by hosting the Kickoff Game.
However, the Ravens will not be able to host the opener due to a scheduling conflict with the Baltimore Orioles. The Ravens and the NFL determined that the Ravens will still play in the Kickoff Game, but they will play on the road.
There are two suggested opponents, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Denver Broncos. The Pittsburgh Pirates and Colorado Rockies do not have home games on Sept. 5. I thought about having Baltimore starting in Cincinnati, but the Reds host a game that day.
I like the Steelers to host the Kickoff Game as the Ravens and Steelers have a bitter divisional rivalry. I have Baltimore playing at Denver (Joe Flacco vs. Peyton Manning) on a Sunday night game later in the season.
The bad news is that if this matchup is the Kickoff Game, Baltimore will travel to Pittsburgh for an NBC game for the third straight season (the 2011 and 2012 Ravens/Steelers NBC games also were in Pittsburgh). In 2010, the game in Baltimore made the NBC schedule. However, the Ravens won both of the SNF games in Pittsburgh the last two seasons.
Denver Broncos at Indianapolis Colts
Elliot Harrison listed Peyton Manning's return to Indianapolis as his top game this upcoming season. I would be shocked if this game is not Sunday Night Football on NBC.
I think this game would be perfect as the first Sunday night game. If they don't play Week 1, you will be sure to hear Peyton say every week he is looking forward to and thinking about the current week's game and not his return to Indianapolis. So I think they should just schedule it the first week.
In addition, I think the Colts are a good candidate for slipping this season.
Last season, they played a weak schedule because of their finish the year before. Next season, their schedule includes games vs. Denver, Cincinnati, San Francisco and Seattle (along with two games against AFC South champion Houston).
They also played last season on an emotional high because of Chuck Pagano's fight with cancer.
I would not want to see them play late and have the Colts be a struggling sub-.500 team. In addition, if you schedule the game in the middle of the season you risk Manning getting hurt as he did during his last season in Indianapolis, making this game much less meaningful.
If you want this game to be big, you have to schedule it early. While Peyton and Flacco would be a dynamite Kickoff Game, I think they should play this game early.
New Orleans Saints at New England Patriots
It's an inter-conference game between two teams that normally play in the regular season just once every four years.
Tom Brady and Drew Brees will meet in the regular season for the first time since 2009. That season, Drew Brees threw five touchdowns and the Saints won 38-17 en route to the Super Bowl championship in 2010.
I expect a high-scoring game between two top quarterbacks.
Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings
Last season, the Green Bay Packers won the NFC North. But the Minnesota Vikings beat them in Minnesota the last weekend of the season to clinch a playoff spot as Adrian Peterson came up just nine yards short of breaking Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record. The Packers and Vikings played in Lambeau during Wild Card weekend with Green Bay getting revenge.
With the Chicago Bears having a new coach and the Detroit Lions finishing with a losing record last year, it is likely Green Bay and Minnesota will fight for NFC North supremacy. It also is a matchup of contrasting styles between Peterson and the Vikings and Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.
Washington Redskins at New York Giants
NFC East battles have become a Sunday Night Football tradition. The SNF schedule in 2012 had three games between NFC East rivals (not counting last year's Kickoff Game featuring the Giants and Cowboys). In 2011, four such games made the SNF schedule, including both Dallas Cowboys-New York Giants games).
I would expect to see one of the Giants-Redskins, Giants-Cowboys or Cowboys-Redskins to be on SNF this season (the Eagles probably will not be scheduled although if they surprise, they could be flexed in).
If I'm correct, I think each of the three teams should get a home game. I decided on Washington playing at New York, New York at Dallas and Dallas at Washington. Dallas traveled to the Meadowlands for an NBC game the last two seasons (the last SNF game in 2011 and the Kickoff Game in 2012) so three in a row in Meadowlands Stadium is probably too much.
Dallas Cowboys at New Orleans Saints
This game pits Brees and New Orleans' high-scoring offense against the Dallas Cowboys, who are often called "America's Team." A 2012 NFL.com poll found the Cowboys to be the league's most popular team.
Besides Brees and Tony Romo playing, the added story line here is the rumors last season that Sean Peyton, who is returning from a seasonlong suspension from Bounty Gate, would become the Cowboys head coach.
This game is the first contest to be played during MLB's postseason as the regular season is scheduled to end on Sept. 29. Effort has to be made to avoid games in cities where there could be a possible conflict (just like the Ravens' fiasco). So New Orleans is a good bet to host a SNF game sometime in October.
Also, you want to avoid a popular baseball city to be playing on the road. Here, Dallas is the visiting team, but the NFL shouldn't worry about Dallas-area fans watching the Rangers over the Cowboys (at least that's what Josh Hamilton says).
Pittsburgh Steelers at Green Bay Packers
This is a rematch of Super Bowl XLV when Rodgers won his first Super Bowl. The two teams have won 10 Super Bowls between them. Because they're in different conferences, they only meet once every four years in the regular season.
This makes the Steelers/Packers game a natural for a showcase game for a national audience.
This also is the perfect SNF game during the baseball playoffs. Green Bay doesn't even have a MLB team (Milwaukee is close, but the Packers have to be considered the more popular team). Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Pirates have had 20 consecutive losing seasons.
Minnesota Vikings at Seattle Seahawks
Russell Wilson led the Seahawks to the playoffs and an opening-road playoff win at Washington before a close loss in Atlanta during the divisional playoffs. They added former Minnesota Vikings' wide receiver Percy Harvin in a trade, adding to the attractiveness of this matchup.
When it came to choosing games during the baseball playoffs, I decided to go with two cities without MLB teams in the first two weeks because there are more playoff teams early, and there is a greater chance of a conflict.
Not only do the Seattle Mariners have to make the playoffs, they will have to make the ALCS to have any chance at compete locally with this game. The Mariners are a long shot to win the World Series.
Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans
The World Series is scheduled to begin on Oct. 23.
In 2009, the NFL did not schedule a Sunday Night game opposite the World Series. But in 2010, it did and it has ever since. If I had my way, the NFL would not play a SNF game this week, but we all know it will.
Maybe that is part of the reason MLB refused to back down when it came to the Orioles/Ravens conflict in Baltimore.
In two of the last three seasons, the Sunday night NFL game beat the World Series in television ratings. However, the game (New Orleans at Denver) was the lowest rated to date.
I'm sure a Cowboys-Giants game or a Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning game would beat the World Series, but why not put that game elsewhere so it doesn't go against the World Series?
While the NFL has refused to back down from the World Series, it has strategically chosen markets of teams that either do not have MLB teams or have traditionally poor teams. In fact, the last three games to go up against the World Series have involved the New Orleans Saints. The 2011 game had the Saints and Colts (Indianapolis also has no MLB team).
I would say both New York teams are out in case the Yankees make the World Series. The San Francisco Giants have won two of the last three World Series so I doubt the 49ers will play on SNF during the World Series.
I would say St. Louis would be a problem although I doubt the Rams will get a SNF game at all this year. While the Boston Red Sox aren't as good as they were a few years ago, I don't think the NFL wants to have a game in or involving New England competing with the Red Sox in the World Series.
So this year, I picked the Colts and Texans.
The Houston Astros had the worst odds to win the World Series at the start of the season so I highly doubt they will be in the World Series. I didn't want to give Indianapolis the game because the Colts should get Peyton's homecoming as a SNF game.
I hope they don't put another Saints game against the World Series. Give Brees and company the chance to watch a Sunday Night World Series game for a change.
Baltimore Ravens at Denver Broncos
With baseball presumably out of the way and football season in full swing by now, it's time for the huge marquee matchups!
Last January, the Broncos were up a touchdown with 1:09 left. Baltimore started on its own 23 with no time outs. Most people (me included) thought the game was over and that Flacco couldn't "win" a game. But a 70-yard touchdown pass tied the score, leading to a double-overtime victory en route to the Super Bowl.
This game clearly put Flacco on the map.
With Ray Lewis retiring and Ed Reed leaving for the Texans, Flacco is now the face of the Ravens and they have to be considered more of an offensive team than the defensive team they have been since Lewis and company won their first Super Bowl.
I guarantee Peyton and the Broncos will circle this game on the schedule when it comes out.
I would be shocked if it isn't in prime time. While it has a good chance to be the Kickoff Game, I think it fits better here in the first week after the World Series. If the Ravens/Broncos game is the first week, I would put Denver and Indianapolis in November.
Dallas Cowboys at Washington Redskins
Flex scheduling begins the final seven weeks of the regular season, and I would assume the NFL would want huge games after the World Series and before the flex games start. This one is sure to be a ratings' blockbuster.
As I mentioned in the Giants/Redskins slide, Dallas will travel to Washington for an NBC game for the second consecutive year. This is to avoid the Cowboys traveling to New York for an NBC game for the third straight year.
The NFL could give the Cowboys prime time games against the Redskins and Giants, but I doubt it will.
Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers
This is the first 49ers SNF game in my schedule. Since the San Francisco Giants have won two of the last three World Series, I think it is wise to keep the 49ers off the schedule until November.
While Colin Kaepernick led the 49ers to the Super Bowl and almost won, perhaps defenses prepare for him better this season and the 49ers take a step back in 2013. Having their games later in the season allows NBC to flex them out if Kaepernick isn't the next Peyton, Tom or Flacco.
The Packers and 49ers met in the divisional round last year with the 49ers winning a 45-31 shootout. The two teams met at Lambeau Field last year as well, with the 49ers prevailing. I expect another high-scoring game between Kaepernick and Rodgers.
New England Patriots at Baltimore Ravens
I am limiting each NFL team now to three NBC appearances. This is the third and final NBC game for Flacco and the Ravens (Kickoff Game in Pittsburgh and in Denver vs. Peyton).
I think America wants to also see Joe and Tom Brady meet again. The two met in the AFC Championship Game and also last season on NBC in a 31-30 game.
I fully expect Flacco vs. Peyton to be an NBC game whether it is the Kickoff Game or a Sunday Night game. I also expect at least one of their two games against Pittsburgh to be featured on NBC.
So I would think this game should be the third game over the Ed Reed Homecoming game.
Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions (FOX, 12:30 p.m. ET)
Last year, the Lions hosted an AFC opponent so their game was on CBS. I would expect this year for the Cowboys to play on CBS, leaving Fox with the Lions. So they have to host an NFC opponent.
The Lions hosted the Green Bay Packers in their last three odd-numbered Thanksgiving games. This includes the infamous Suh stomp, which everyone in the NFL would like to forget.
Minnesota last played the Lions on Thanksgiving in 1995. Their last game on Thanksgiving was 2000 against the Cowboys.
Other than their NFC North rivals, the only other NFC teams coming to Detroit are Dallas, the Giants and Tampa Bay.
Because Detroit is coming off a losing season, I doubt the NFL would put Tampa Bay and Detroit on Thanksgiving. Dallas is out of the question. So the only non-divisional possibility would be the Giants, which would probably also be a good choice (getting the New York market is always a bonus). But I will stick with the Vikings here.
Denver Broncos at Dallas Cowboys (CBS, 4 p.m. ET)
If you assume Dallas will play an AFC opponent, there are only two choices. One is Peyton Manning. The other is the Raiders. Which game would you rather see?
If this game isn't on Thanksgiving, someone in the NFL needs to be fired. Also, the Raiders played on Thanksgiving in Dallas in 2009, the last time NFC East and AFC West teams were paired.
The Broncos played on Thanksgiving in 2009 against the Giants and Peyton's last Thanksgiving game was in 2007 against Atlanta. Both games were on the NFL Network so this is expected to be Peyton's first Thanksgiving game to appear on national TV.
Chicago Bears at Pittsburgh Steelers (NBC)
Since the NFL started the third Thanksgiving game, the game has been hosted by Kansas City, Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Denver, New York twice (both by the Jets) and Baltimore.
I think Pittsburgh is a great place to host the prime-time Thanksgiving game. Pittsburgh is, in my opinion, one of the best football cities in the nation. The Steelers last played on Thanksgiving in 1998 (the Jerome Bettis coin-flip fiasco in Detroit).
I had put my original proposed NBC schedule together in February before the Ravens' conflict so this was originally the only NBC game in Pittsburgh (now the Steelers would get the Kickoff Game). It will be strange without a Sunday Night game in the Steel City if it happens.
As for their opponent, I went with the Bears (Chicago market). Chicago last played on Thanksgiving in 2004. I think Cincinnati also would be a great choice, but Chicago is too tempting a market.
New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons
Atlanta won the NFC South last year, but the Saints were dealing with Bounty Gate and got off to a slow start. I would expect the two to fight all season for the NFC South title.
I do not recall the last time Drew and Matt Ryan played on Sunday Night Football or if they ever did, so it is a matchup on the top of my list to see on NBC.
Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers
Elliot Harrison has this matchup near the top of his list. A few years ago, the Seattle Seahawks won the division with a 7-9 record. No one expects either of these teams to finish with a losing record this year.
Wilson and Kaepernick are two of the youngest, newest and most exciting quarterbacks in the league. They could be part of the next generation after Peyton and Tom retire. Of course, one or even both could suffer a sophomore slump, and this game would be flexed out.
Last year, the game was in Seattle and the Seahawks made a statement as they pounded the 49ers on NBC. So if two divisional rivals play on NBC one year, I usually like to let the other team host the following year, so this contest would be the second game from San Francisco on NBC this year.
New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys
This is the third of the three NFC East games on my NBC schedule. This game features "America's Team" and the New York market.
I would expect the Giants/Cowboys NBC game (assuming there is one, and I think it's a safe assumption) would be the one of the highest-rated games of the season.
I also think that even if Romo and Eli have losing records (or even if one or both miss this game due to injury), this game has 0 percent chance of being flexed out.
Denver Broncos at New England Patriots
This is the second to last week of the season, and the NFL usually does not schedule a Sunday Night game the final week.
This game is second on Elliot Harrison's list behind Peyton's return to Indianapolis. For many years, Peyton vs. Tom has been one of the most anticipated games of the season. This year's game will be even more anticipated because of Wes Welker's return to Foxboro after he signed with the Broncos.
In addition, the Broncos and Patriots were the only teams to make the playoffs from their divisions. So there is a good chance both will have clinched the division by now, and this game could decide home- field advantage throughout the AFC.
They can't play in the last week because that week is for divisional games, so this is the perfect time for them to play.
Kickoff Game: Ravens at Steelers
Thanksgiving Games: Vikings at Lions, Broncos at Cowboys, Bears at Steelers
Sunday Night Games:
- Week 1: Broncos at Colts (Peyton's return to Indy)
- Week 2: Saints at Patriots (Brees vs. Brady)
- Week 3: Packers at Vikings (Rodgers vs. Adrian Peterson)
- Week 4: Redskins at Giants (RG3 vs. Eli)
- Week 5: Cowboys at Saints (Cowboys vs. Brees/Sean Peyton)
- Week 6: Steelers at Packers (Super Bowl XLV rematch)
- Week 7: Vikings at Seahawks (Percy Harvin game)
- Week 8: Colts at Texans (AFC South)
- Week 9: Ravens at Broncos (Flacco vs. Peyton)
- Week 10: Cowboys at Redskins (historic rivalry, RG3 vs. Romo)
- Week 11: Packers at 49ers (NFC playoff rematch)
- Week 12: Patriots at Ravens (AFC championship rematch, Flacco vs. Brady)
- Week 13: Saints at Falcons (NFC South, Brees vs. Ryan)
- Week 14: Seahawks at 49ers (NFC West)
- Week 15: Giants at Cowboys (NFC East, Romo vs. Eli)
- Week 16: Broncos at Patriots (Brady vs. Peyton Manning one more time)
San Francisco and New England host two Sunday Night games. Pittsburgh hosts two NBC games although neither is on Sunday night.
Teams making three NBC appearances (*-home):
Ravens (Steelers, Broncos, Patriots*)
Patriots (Saints*, Ravens, Broncos*)
Broncos (Colts, Ravens*, Patriots)
Steelers (Ravens*, Packers, Bears*)
Cowboys (Saints, Redskins, Giants*)
Packers (Vikings, Steelers*, 49ers)
Saints (Patriots, Cowboys*, Falcons)
Best games not on this schedule
49ers at Falcons (NFC Championship). Unfortunately, the AFC trio (Peyton, Brady and Flacco) got top billing so the 49ers only receive two NBC games. I would expect this to be FOX's top non-divisional game of the season.
Broncos at Giants (Peyton vs. Eli). I would think the three games I have for Peyton's Broncos would be more anticipated. CBS should celebrate getting this game and if it is during a flex week, expect CBS to protect it.
The Bengals are the only playoff team from last season not to make an appearance. The Ravens and Steelers just have two many attractive games.