Tomorrow is probably my favorite day of the entire offseason, for it is the day that the full NFL schedule gets announced . Sure, we knew who each team was playing the minute the 2012 regular season ended. But seeing the finished schedule with all the dates, times and networks finalized makes the whole thing seem so much more real – there’s just something about knowing that the Jaguars and Browns are going to play a 1 P.M. game on CBS on December 1st that brings me great inner peace. Then again, I’m a big weirdo, so maybe this doesn’t have the same effect for the rest of you. At any rate, I love Schedule Unveiling Day so much that I actually do my own projections of which matchups will get featured on the league’s showcase program: Sunday Night Football. And I’m providing those projections below so we can laugh at how wrong they are tomorrow night. It’ll be fun!
Update: Apparently the scheduling snafu with the Ravens’ opening night plans has caused further problems with the rest of the schedule, as NFL spokesman Greg Aiello performed the role of Scrooge and told Mike Florio that the schedule release is, in fact, NOT happening tomorrow night. WHY MUST YOU TAUNT ME SO, NFL???
Some notes on how I did the research for these projections:
Since Sunday Night Football moved to NBC and Monday Night Football moved to ESPN in 2006, Sunday Night Football has been the NFL’s “premier” prime-time telecast – meaning, they generally get the defending Super Bowl champion in at least three games a year, in addition to a bunch more games involving Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and/or the ratings gold NFC East teams. Monday Night Football, by contrast, usually gets the defending champion once and an overall slate of good but not great matchups.
Except in weird years where someone like the Seahawks gets into the playoffs with a 7-9 record, Sunday Night Football will usually feature each team from the previous year’s playoffs at least once a season. Also, no team can be scheduled for more than three games on Sunday Night Football, although it’s possible a team could get a fourth appearance as a flex matchup in the last seven weeks of the season.
Finally, keep in mind that even though Sunday Night Football is the highest-rated prime time telecast in the country, the late afternoon doubleheader game on either FOX or CBS actually scores higher ratings on average. So often the NFL saves its most compelling games for that late afternoon window, which is why you won’t see Peyton Manning’s return to Indianapolis listed in the Sunday Night Football matchups. CBS cares too much.
And now, ranked in order of likelihood and with comments when deemed necessary…
Projected 2013 Sunday Night Football Matchups.
- New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys (or vice versa)
- Dallas Cowboys at Washington Redskins (or vice versa)
- Washington Redskins at New York Giants (or vice versa) – every year, Sunday Night Football gets a bare minimum of three NFC East divisional games. My assumption is the games involving the Redskins will probably be pushed back later in the season to ensure RGIII is playing.
- Baltimore Ravens at Denver Broncos
- Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers (or vice versa) – with the Ravens having to open the season on the road, these are your two candidates for the opening Thursday night game of the season. I’m predicting it’ll be Ravens-Broncos, but Ravens/Steelers is a sure bet to be included on the schedule at some point.
- Denver Broncos at New England Patriots
- Denver Broncos at New York Giants – CBS got the last two Manning/Brady matchups, so it would seem appropriate that NBC get its first crack at the rivalry since 2009. And the two prior Peyton-Eli matchups were both on Sunday Night Football, so here’s guessing that pattern holds for Part III of that sibling rivalry.
- New England Patriots at Baltimore Ravens
- Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers
- Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers
- San Francisco 49ers at Washington Redskins
- Dallas Cowboys at Chicago Bears
- Houston Texans at San Francisco 49ers
- New England Patriots at Atlanta Falcons
- Atlanta Falcons at Green Bay Packers
- Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals
- Minnesota Vikings at Seattle Seahawks
- Houston Texans at Indianapolis Colts
Now I’ll be the first to point out that less than half of these will actually be correct. The first five are the only ones that feel like complete slam dunks; the rest range from “decent chance” to “complete shot in the dark.” These are the activities that you’re left to do when there’s seven months of offseason. Tomorrow night can’t come soon enough!