There are few more lasting and memorable traditions in the NFL than Monday Night Football. Today's 24/7 sports coverage and the advent of prime-time games on Sunday, Thursday and now Saturday have taken away from the spectacle that Howard Cosell once presided over, but the MNF brand still lives as strong as ever.
And, as such, Thursday's announcement of the 2014 NFL schedule went one of two ways. For fans of specific teams, they quickly scoured the matchups and did quick-hit analysis on what to expect next season. For those without specific rooting interests, the first look went right to assessing the validity of the matchups the NFL chose to occupy our prime-time space.
It's safe to say ESPN won't be hemorrhaging viewers for its expansive slate. The 2014 Monday Night Football schedule features stars like Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers going head-to-head, along with the next generation (or current, actually) of Robert Griffin III and Super Bowl winner Russell Wilson getting their chance to shine on the national stage.
Intradivisional rivalries between the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins will also be settled, as will what could become a solid rivalry at the top of the AFC between the Denver Broncos and Cincinnati Bengals.
Other games just kinda sound fun. Others, as is typical in these types of settings, not so much. But the inherent year-to-year unpredictability of the NFL means never knowing which matchup will actually be a dud. Remember when we were all excited for 49ers-Redskins last year?
Yeah, umm, whoops.
With that in mind, let's take a look at the complete MNF slate for next season and take a quick look at the ones that stand out. You know, four months before we know whether any of these teams will be good or not.
|Monday Night Football Schedule|
|Week||Date||Matchup||Start Time (ET)||TV||Stream|
|1||Sept. 8||New York Giants at Detroit Lions||7:10 p.m.||ESPN||WatchESPN|
|1||Sept. 8||San Diego Chargers at Arizona Cardinals||10:20 p.m.||ESPN||WatchESPN|
|2||Sept. 15||Philadelphia Eagles at Indianapolis Colts||8:30 p.m.||ESPN||WatchESPN|
|3||Sept. 22||Chicago Bears at New York Jets||8:30 p.m.||ESPN||WatchESPN|
|4||Sept. 29||New England Patriots at Kansas City Chiefs||8:30 p.m.||ESPN||WatchESPN|
|5||Oct. 6||Seattle Seahawks at Washington Redskins||8:30 p.m.||ESPN||WatchESPN|
|6||Oct. 13||San Francisco 49ers at St. Louis Rams||8:30 p.m.||ESPN||WatchESPN|
|7||Oct. 20||Houston Texans at Pittsburgh Steelers||8:30 p.m.||ESPN||WatchESPN|
|8||Oct. 27||Washington Redskins at Dallas Cowboys||8:30 p.m.||ESPN||WatchESPN|
|9||Nov. 3||Indianapolis Colts at New York Giants||8:30 p.m.||ESPN||WatchESPN|
|10||Nov. 10||Carolina Panthers at Philadelphia Eagles||8:30 p.m.||ESPN||WatchESPN|
|11||Nov. 17||Pittsburgh Steelers at Tennessee Titans||8:30 p.m.||ESPN||WatchESPN|
|12||Nov. 24||Baltimore Ravens at New Orleans Saints||8:30 p.m.||ESPN||WatchESPN|
|13||Dec. 1||Miami Dolphins at New York Jets||8:30 p.m.||ESPN||WatchESPN|
|14||Dec. 8||Atlanta Falcons at Green Bay Packers||8:30 p.m.||ESPN||WatchESPN|
|15||Dec. 15||New Orleans Saints at Chicago Bears||8:30 p.m.||ESPN||WatchESPN|
|16||Dec. 22||Denver Broncos at Cincinnati Bengals||8:30 p.m.||ESPN||WatchESPN|
Monday Night Football Schedule Breakdown
The Best of the Best
Week 4 — New England Patriots at Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs aren't typically associated with games one would call "exciting," but I'd think we're all mature enough to appreciate good football at this point. Kansas City has lost a bevy of players this offseason—specifically on the defensive side—and the Broncos have established themselves pretty clearly as the class of the AFC West. But there is still a strong structural core here on both sides of the ball, and the Chiefs' ability to bring rushers off the edge could give Tom Brady fits. At the very least, it's a good early-season look at two AFC playoff teams from last season.
Week 5 — Seattle Seahawks at Washington Redskins: At this time last year, there was ongoing and widespread debate about who was the best of the Gang of Four. Griffin was the leader for most after earning the 2012 Rookie of the Year Award and leading the once-woebegone Redskins to the playoffs. Wilson stole Griffin's mantle and then some with a Super Bowl-winning 2013. With Mike Shanahan gone and Griffin unimpeded by a frosty relationship with his coaching staff, it will be interesting to see how he comes back. A litmus test against Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and the Seahawks secondary is as good a test as any. Plus, getting one up on Wilson might be a nice tip of the cap for Griffin in the wholly media-created "rivalry."
Week 16 — Cincinnati Bengals at Denver Broncos: On paper, this is 2014's best Monday Night Football game. It's not even all that particularly close. The Bengals have a stellar core of young players on both sides of the ball,and may get an answer on Andy Dalton's status as a franchise guy next season. Dalton is due a contract extension, and his performance in these types of games could make or break his status with the franchise. The Broncos are everyone's comparative stick in the AFC, a growing monolith that has gone all-in on winning now. Right now. Not tomorrow or the next day. Denver has thrown its cap future into the wind and is determined to hoist the Lombardi next season. A Denver-Cincinnati showdown should be a whole lot of fun.
Maybe Catch Up With the Family on These Nights
Week 7 — Houston Texans at Pittsburgh Steelers: As you may have heard, the Texans were the worst team in football in 2013. Bill O'Brien is an improvement over Gary Kubiak, and Houston is bound for a positive regression on the injury curve, but this is a team at least another year away from playoff contention. The Steelers, bound by their minimal cap space and aging veterans, aren't looking much better. They had a torrid second half to finish at 8-8 last season, but without any major additions in free agency and everyone getting one year older, that seems about the peak of Pittsburgh's projection in 2014.
Week 11 — Pittsburgh Steelers at Tennessee Titans: I don't mean to continue picking on the Steelers here. It isn't their fault the NFL decided to put half of their games against the AFC South—the worst division in football—on national television. Placed comparatively to a relatively strong slate otherwise, though, Pittsburgh's Monday slate lags behind. The Titans are still mired in that middle ground between competing for the AFC's last playoff spot and a top-10 pick—the proverbial no man's land. Jake Locker's health will always be a question mark at any given Week 11, and the downgrade from Ryan Fitzpatrick to Charlie Whitehurst at backup QB remains perplexing. This might be close, though. Like...17-13 with five combined turnovers close. But still close.
Week 13 — Miami Dolphins at New York Jets: Speaking of teams stuck in the NFL's murky middle, Week 13's Monday night contest may wind up deciding which team finishes second to the Patriots in the AFC East this year. So if games that decide the difference between 8-8 and 7-9 are your thing, you'll be glued to the edge of your television. I'm being somewhat facetious here. The Dolphins nearly made the playoffs last season amid constant crisis and should have some room to improve without the media breathing down their necks. Michael Vick's arrival in New York might bring out one last career year—or at the very least provide some competency at the position. One key New England injury and, who knows, this could be for the division crown. But that just goes to show the overall quality of the MNF slate. When a Dolphins-Jets contest is the worst you can do, you're in for a good season.
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