When Major League Baseball, the NBA or NHL release their schedules, only the hardcore fans take note. NFL schedule release day seems like a holiday in comparison.
The popularity of the league can be summed up in many ways, but few like the excitement over seeing the regular-season schedule being announced. NFL Network had a two-hour show scheduled for Thursday night around the schedule release, with five reporters on site at various NFL team headquarters. ESPN announced a competing two-hour schedule release show for Thursday night. The release of the schedule is an event, and has been for many years.
Finally, we have NFL football on the calendar (and not just the preseason schedule, which came out last week just to tease us). Here are the main points to take away from the 256-game NFL slate for 2018:
Eagles get Falcons to start the NFL season
Since the 2004 season, the NFL has put the defending Super Bowl champion in the league’s opening game of the season, traditionally on a Thursday night with the champ being the home team. The Philadelphia Eagles waited more than 50 years to finally win a Super Bowl, and it will be an electric atmosphere at Lincoln Financial Field as Eagles fans get to continue their championship celebration with an opening-night game against the Atlanta Falcons. That game will be on Thursday, Sept. 6 at 8:20 p.m., and is a rematch of a tight NFC divisional round playoff game last season. The bulk of the Week 1 games happen that Sunday, Sept. 9.
Of course the opening game is more than a coronation for the champs, and it will be especially interesting from a football sense in Philadelphia because of the Carson Wentz situation. Wentz is coming off a torn ACL suffered last December, and there’s no guarantee he’ll be ready to start Week 1. If Nick Foles has to start, it will be a tough test against a good Falcons team. The good news is Foles is the defending Super Bowl MVP.
Bears and Packers face off in Week 1 on ‘Sunday Night Football’
The NFL scheduled a traditional rivalry for the first “Sunday Night Football” game of the season. The Chicago Bears will take on the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.
There will be the traditional doubleheader on “Monday Night Football” in Week 1. The Detroit Lions host the New York Jets in the first game, then the Oakland Raiders — with Jon Gruden back on the sideline — will host the Los Angeles Rams in the second game. Gruden will go from the “MNF” broadcast booth to coaching on Monday evening in his first game back as Raiders coach.
The best Week 1 game that isn’t in prime time could be the Houston Texans, hopefully with quarterback Deshaun Watson and defensive end J.J. Watt back from injury, at the New England Patriots.
The Los Angeles Chargers will host the Kansas City Chiefs in the second set of games on the Sunday of Week 1, and that one will have big implications in the AFC West race.
Prime-time will be earlier, and the 49ers will appear often
Before the games were even announced, the NFL said that the times of prime-time games will move up. Monday night games will start at 8:15 p.m. ET, 15 minutes earlier than last year, Sunday night games will start at 8:20 p.m. (10 minutes earlier) and Thursday night games will kick off five minutes earlier at 8:20 p.m.
There are plenty of interesting parts of the prime-time schedule, but one that stands out is the San Francisco 49ers got five prime-time games. Credit a late-season winning streak with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, which vaulted the 49ers into relevancy again. The Rams are among the teams that have an NFL-best five prime-time games, and Cameron DaSilva of The Rams Wire said that is the most in team history.
According to Andrew Siciliano of NFL Network, the teams with five prime-time games are: Rams, Cowboys, Packers, Chiefs, Patriots, Saints, Eagles, Steelers, 49ers and Seahawks. Siciliano said the Cardinals, Bills, Bengals, Browns, Colts, Chargers, Dolphins and Buccaneers get just one prime-time game each.
NFL Network pointed out that every team will appear in at least one prime-time game this season. Also, no team with a “Monday Night Football” road game will have a road game the following week. In addition, there will be two Saturday games in Week 16, and the NFL will decide which games to move to that Saturday after Week 8.
Thanksgiving gets three divisional rivalry games
The Chicago Bears will play at the Detroit Lions to begin the Thanksgiving tripleheader. Then the Dallas Cowboys will host the Washington Redskins. The night ends with the best game of the three, the Atlanta Falcons visiting the New Orleans Saints.
Flexible scheduling between the networks has allowed the NFL more options for the three Thanksgiving matchups, and it has resulted in better games. For many years, the Lions or Cowboys had to host an AFC team so the network that broadcasts AFC games could have one. A recent change allows networks to swap games, so we have gotten many more NFC vs. NFC games. Even though the first two Thanksgiving games this year feature four teams that missed the playoffs last season, they’re division rivalry games. And Falcons-Saints, with two teams that are coming off playoff berths, is one of the best rivalries in the NFL.
Four international games, including three in London
There are four international games this season, with three in London and one in Mexico. The NFL offered those games as an appetizer to the release of the full schedule, announcing the international games on Thursday morning.
The good news is the NFL has kept two of the London games in the early Sunday morning time slot, which provides some value to American fans who otherwise wouldn’t gain much from games being played in England.
Seattle Seahawks vs. Oakland Raiders, Tottenham Hotspur, London. Oct. 14, 1 p.m. ET
Tennessee Titans vs. Los Angeles Chargers, Wembley Stadium, London. Oct. 21, 9:30 a.m. ET
Philadelphia Eagles vs. Jacksonville Jaguars, Wembley Stadium, London, Oct. 28, 9:30 a.m. ET
Kansas City Chiefs vs. Los Angeles Rams, Estadio Azteca, Mexico City. Nov. 19 (Monday), 8:15 p.m. ET
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