SportsPulse: The NFL schedule is out and we couldn’t be more excited about the ridiculousness of it all. USA TODAY’s Trysta Krick breaks down the biggest storylines from the schedule.
After sifting through tens of thousands of options — distilled by supercomputers from what could be almost infinite combinations — the NFL revealed the highly anticipated schedule for its 100th season Wednesday evening.
Who has reason to rejoice and who might wish the league had allowed those servers and the scheduling honchos more time to find an ideal 256-game itinerary? Read on …
Tradition: The NFL made the correct call, kicking off its celebration of a football century by featuring its longest-running rivalry, Packers-Bears, for the 199th time in the regular-season opener. Letting Chicago, longtime home of George “Papa Bear” Halas, host was also a nice touch. (Now if only we could still see Soldier Field’s iconic columns from field level …)
Jason Garrett: Feels like a hot seat kinda season for Dallas’ coach, who’s never guided the Cowboys to the postseason in successive years. But the first three games for America’s Team (and five of the first six) are against non-playoff opponents — a pretty good opportunity to build some early momentum for the potentially embattled Garrett.
Lamar Jackson:Baltimore’s second-year quarterback will open a season as the starter for the first time … and face the four worst defenses (Miami, Cleveland, Kansas City, Cincinnati) from 2018 over the first six weeks.
Bills’ early Christmas shopping: Buffalo’s players basically won’t lose sight of New York in September, opening with two games just outside New York City — stock up for the kids now, fellas — against the Jets and Giants before hosting the Bengals and Patriots.
Browns’ weekend shopping:Four prime-time games! What will Cleveland players and fans do with all of this newly granted free time on Sunday afternoons at 1 p.m.?
Shared spotlight: Good to see almost every team (sorry, Bills) get at least one prime-time date. Even I want to see the Dolphins … once.
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Mexico: A torn-up field at Estadio Azteca forced our neighbors to the south to surrender Chiefs-Rams last season, a game that turned out to be one of the most memorable regular-season shootouts ever. But the NFL will export Chiefs-Chargers — they also provided a dramatic contest late last season — Nov. 18 in a showdown of clubs that shared the AFC’s best record (12-4) in 2018.
History: To further tout the centennial season, the league has designated an “NFL100 Game of the Week” throughout the season in order to provide, according to its news release, “a nod to a momentous game played, a fierce rivalry that spans decades, a matchup of original teams and/or a game in which history was made.”
Patriots:This worked out pretty well. The champs open with eight consecutive tilts against teams that didn’t reach the playoffs last season. They’ll also get to limit travel expenses, leaving the Eastern time zone just once, a Week 13 trip to Houston.
Patriots fans: Yeah, it’s nice getting Pack-Monsters off the top in the name of the season-long birthday party for the rest of us, but kinda blows for the New England faithful. That Thursday night opener, usually reserved as a home game for the reigning Super Bowl champs, sure is a nice way for the locals to get a jump on their weekend before watching how their fantasy teams debut from the comfort of the couch (or preferred watering hole).
Patriots fans … again: Oh yeah, the NFL is trolling you with an “NFL100” game … in Foxborough … against Eli Manning and the Giants on Oct. 10.
History lessons: Some rather oddball choices for those NFL100 designees. Wouldn’t it have been better to open the 50th season of “Monday Night Football” with Jets-Browns, the inaugural “MNF” matchup back in 1970, rather than delay it to Week 2? In Week 3, we get a celebration of Super Bowl VI between Dallas and Miami — easily one of the worst Super Bowls ever — rather than the Broncos-Packers matchup 26 years later or the Rams’ return to Cleveland, their original home? And Week 5’s NFL100 tag doesn’t go to Packers-Cowboys — remember that Ice Bowl thing? — instead affixing to Bills-Titans, even though we’re still not really sure the Music City Miracle was legit. I could go on …
Saints: They get a Super Bowl-caliber schedule without the benefit of having actually played in the Super Bowl … which history will forever remember they should have. Two September home games against Texas playoff teams bookend West Coast trips to visit the Rams and Seahawks. (And doesn’t the controversial NFC Championship Game rematch in Week 2 feel a touch early?)
Brian Flores: Welcome to the big headset. Miami’s rookie head coach comes out of the chute against the Ravens, Patriots, Cowboys and Chargers, all 2018 playoff teams.
Jimmy Garoppolo: Hope that surgically repaired knee is feeling 100%, buddy, because the NFL will be putting you on two lengthy plane trips (Tampa and Cincinnati) to begin your comeback.
Iggles: Philly is the only team that has to play three straight on the road (Weeks 6-8), part of a stretch that includes one game at Lincoln Financial Field over a six-week period.
Aaron Rodgers and Matt LaFleur: The mind meld between Green Bay’s new brain trust will be tested immediately by a murderer’s row of defenses: Chicago, Minnesota, Denver, Philadelphia and Dallas. And don’t think Mike McCarthy won’t be watching.
NFL Network: The league-owned outlet again gets the table scraps, forced to promote some of those mandatory prime-time appearances. Titans-Jags, Texans-Jags and two helpings of Bucs-Panthers will all be shown exclusively on NFLN. Appointment viewing … in the Sun Belt anyway.
Thanksgiving leftovers? Uh, we had Bears-Lions and Falcons-Saints last year, too, though the venue for the latter game has switched from New Orleans to Atlanta. And Bills-Cowboys for the main course? Really? You couldn’t have cross-flexed us a fresh turkey, NFL? Not sure these Buffalo wings are going to hit the spot.
Oakland: So let’s recap — a city losing its beloved franchise to Las Vegas following the season also has to surrender a home date to London, and that just happens to be a matchup with the Bears that will prevent the Black Hole faithful from paying their respects to departed friend Khalil Mack, whom they never got to properly see off in 2018. Oh, that London game Oct. 6 also means the Raiders will play once in Oakland during a 42-day span that encompasses the entire month of October. And rather than let the Silver & Black wind down its home slate against one of its decades-long AFC West foes, the Raiders are scheduled to bid the city adieu with meh matchups against Tennessee and Jacksonville in Weeks 14 and 15, respectively. This is just wrong. Here’s hoping Jon Gruden leads a surprise charge to an AFC West crown, leading to the Raiders hosting Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs in the playoffs.
Follow Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.
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