The NFL has tried to turn its schedule release into an Event, complete with a live broadcast on the NFL Network.
Of course, it isn’t. The league has a rigid formula for determining each team’s schedule every season, so we’ve known the opponents of every team since last season ended in January. The way the actual scheduling works, according to the NFL, is “hundreds of computers in a secure room … spit out millions of possible schedules” and four NFL executives pick the best one. We already know all the matchups; they’re just choosing the sequence.
Those four executives? The NFL’s senior vice president of broadcasting, director of broadcasting, manager of broadcasting, and senior director of broadcasting. They’re supposed to avoid putting undue stress on players’ bodies and prevent teams from traveling too much across the country, but hmm, based on their job titles, there seems to be somewhat of an emphasis on broadcasting. Their real job would seem to be divvying up the NFL’s watchable games among the TV corporations that pay the NFL billions to show us football.
Here is the full NFL schedule — and here are the things you might want to know about it, if you didn’t already.
The First Game: Chiefs at Patriots, September 7
A matchup of two division winners right off the bat! There’s a tradition of putting the Super Bowl champion in the first game of the year, but, like, I’d watch the Browns play. I’ve been waiting for nine months.
The Best Matchup: Falcons at Patriots, October 22
A Super Bowl rematch! This has become somewhat common in recent years: The Seahawks beat the Broncos in overtime in 2014 after a much less competitive Super Bowl matchup, and the Broncos squeaked by the Panthers on a last-second field goal in the first game last season. But it’s a rarity: The Pats-Falcons matchup is only the eighth regular-season Super Bowl rematch in history, and there wasn’t one in between 1996 and 2014.
Remember: This game was not chosen. The AFC East just happened to be scheduled to play against the NFC South this year. It is an odd choice to push a game that will have an obvious story line when the season begins all the way back to Week 8. Last year’s Panthers-Broncos game seemed amazing in Week 1; if it’d been in Week 8, well, we might have had less reason to watch.
The NFL’s Test of Whether You’re Sleeping: Chargers at Cowboys, November 23
The most watched game of the 2016 season was the Cowboys Thanksgiving game; the most watched game of the 2015 season was the Cowboys Thanksgiving game; the most watched game of the 2014 season was the Cowboys Thanksgiving game; the most watched game of the 2013 season was the Cowboys Thanksgiving game. Noticing a trend?
Anyway, this year the NFL gave us two good Thanksgiving matchups: Vikings-Lions and Giants-Washington. And in the middle, there’s a game featuring the Los Angeles Chargers, who went 5–11 last year, and the Cowboys, who went 13–3.
So, are you really watching on Thanksgiving? Or are you just flipping on the TV and falling asleep from tryptophan? The NFL wants to know.
Silliest Foreign Game: Cardinals vs. Rams in London, October 22
This could be a simple NFC West matchup. Instead both teams are taking 10-hour flights — 10-hour flights! — to London in the middle of the season. Both teams will have a bye the week after, which is nice, but the Rams will play a road game at Jacksonville the week before. Will they spend two weeks on the road, or will they fly to Jacksonville, back to L.A., and then to London? Neither is a good scenario.
Most Likely to Be Flexed Out of ‘Sunday Night Football’: Ravens at Steelers, December 10
The Steelers play twice in three weeks on SNF. One is against the Packers, always a TV draw. The other is against the Ravens, who went 8–8 last year and aren’t exactly star-filled. There are complicated rules preventing teams from being in prime time too frequently and preventing networks from stealing the best games from other networks, but my guess is NBC will find a way to get that afternoon’s Cowboys-Washington game into this slot.
Best Streamable Game: Patriots at Buccaneers, October 5
This year, Amazon will carry 11 games that are a part of the NFL Network package. Some of them are pretty good! I’ll watch Jameis Winston and Tom Brady. Maybe we’re talking about the Pats too much, but judging from the Pats’ playing a quarter of their games in prime time and two more in the premier 4:25 p.m. slot, I think the NFL wants us to talk about them.
Biggest Winner: The Teams That Finished Last Place in Every Division
Just like every year, the teams that finished last place in each division last year are scheduled to play against the three other last-place finishers in their conference. Isn’t that neat? I’m sure the intent of this rule is to lock in marquee matchups for TV — each division winner also plays each division winner, so too for second- and third-place finishers — but I like that it makes life easier for the bottom-feeders. There are potential wins on the schedule for everybody, and if you drastically improve in the offseason, the scheduling makes it possible for you to contend. No other league ties in past performance to scheduling, and the NFL has greater year-to-year fluctuation in the standings than any other league. I suspect those two things are related. For all the times I criticize the NFL, I thought I’d point out one thing it does that I really like.
Smartest Foreign Game: Patriots vs. Raiders in Mexico City, November 19
This is the second straight season the Raiders have played a home game in Mexico City. There is a ton of awkwardness surrounding the team’s final two seasons in Oakland as the franchise prepares to leave for Las Vegas. Surely some local fans will want to go to games to say goodbye to their beloved franchise, but who knows how many fans will be willing to pay to see a team that’s openly ditching them. A game in Mexico bumps their total number of home games down to seven; maybe they should just move the whole damn season down there.