In 2014, the NFL moved the draft to early May as part of its effort to stir up at least some NFL hype each month of the year. That means the release of the schedule for the upcoming season will serve as the NFL’s fireworks here in April.
For many months we’ve been told that the NFL plans to announce its schedule on Tuesday, April 22nd. For as many months, we’ve been unconvinced. This is the one NFL carrot that doesn’t affect any personnel in real-time, so it’s the one that the NFL can drag out a bit to generate some additional hype. They tell us months ago that it’ll be April 22nd, in the long lead-up, half of us forget about it, the day finally arrives, those of us still anticipating it learn that it’s been postponed for a couple of days, and then we start griping (read: hyping).
As expected, it doesn’t look like the schedule will be released today, but it’s pretty much a lock that it’ll be announced by sometime Thursday. Given that, I’ve decided to speculate on the match-ups for three of the NFL’s most anticipated regular season games.
To kick off the season, the Super Bowl Champions play at home on a Thursday night. In my opinion, since the NFL gives every team a Thursday game and tends to schedule its marquee match-ups on Sunday and Monday nights, this is one of the few worthwhile Thursday night games of the season. Once things are in full swing, most Thursday night games seem to be here’s-our-card-in-case-you’ve-forgotten-about-us type affairs.
Okay, so we know that the Seahawks will host the opening game. We also know that this season they play their home games against division rivals the 49ers, Rams, and Cardinals, along with the Cowboys, Giants, Raiders, Broncos, and Packers. (We know they play these teams at home, because it’s based on a calculable combination of regular season history and last season’s standings.)
Although division rivalries are almost always intriguing match-ups, I think the NFL will pass on a divisional game for the opener. It just wouldn’t seem fair to fans of teams in other divisions around the league. Taking last season’s performances into consideration as well, I don’t see Dallas, the Giants, or Oakland playing in this game either.
That leaves Denver and Green Bay. At first glance, both seem to be viable options. Denver won the AFC Championship and faced Seattle in Super Bowl XLVIII. The last time Green Bay played in Seattle, it was in a Monday night game during the 2012/2013 season that would ultimately have a detrimental impact on Green Bay’s playoff seeding. It was evenly contested, and Seattle seemed to rob Green Bay of victory with a controversial, dying-seconds “interception” in the end-zone. That’s just the type of fodder the NFL loves to use for its pre-game hype. Personally, I believe Green Bay is more likely to get the nod here. The lack of competitiveness in Super Bowl XLVIII would make it difficult to hype up a Seattle vs. Denver rematch so soon.
Let’s now move to two other highly-anticipated NFL games–the two Thanksgiving Day games. The first is always a Detroit Lions home game, and the second is always a Dallas Cowboys home game. The somewhat new-to-the-schedule night game doesn’t have a fixed home team, so I won’t speculate on that one.
Of late, the Lions and Cowboys both play an NFC team one year and an AFC team the next. If the NFL decides to stray from that, all bets are off. Last year, the Lions blew out the Packers, and Dallas rallied to beat Oakland 31 – 24. Given that, we know the two away teams this year will be AFC teams.
The only two AFC teams the Lions play at home this year are the Buffalo Bills and the Miami Dolphins. I would have analyzed the two and probably decided that the Bills land the coveted, nationally televised gig due to the fact that they hired former Lions Head Coach Jim Schwartz to be their Defensive Coordinator, but the Bills seem to have saved me the trouble. Their website kinda cat-outta-the-bags it by implying that Schwartz will return to The D on Thanksgiving to face the team that fired him. This is intriguing for that reason, of course, but also because Jon Bon Jovi and Donald Trump are unlikely to miss this enormous opportunity to each put their own mug forward as the sole next face of the Bills franchise.
That leaves just the Cowboys’ Thanksgiving Day opponents. We know that the only two AFC teams the Cowboys play at home this upcoming season are the Houston Texans and the Indianapolis Colts. This is a tough one. Dallas and Houston have a historic state rivalry. Each has its own NFL team, its own NBA team, and its own MLS team. Their fans are anything but fans of each other. Then again, All-American boy Andrew Luck and his midwestern Indianapolis Colts seem almost more American than “America’s team” these days.
I have to take the Texans here though. I just can’t see the NFL passing up the opportunity to rake in hoards of that “Everything’s Bigger In Texas”, state-rivalry money.
Now hurry and get us that schedule, NFL. We’ve got road trips to plan.
(photos credited pslsource.com and cdn3.footbasket.com)