2018 NFL schedule: A heavy emphasis on good prime-time games for all three networks

When Fox spent more than $3 billion to get into the “Thursday Night Football” business, it was clear the NFL would try to give them a good schedule of Thursday night games.

The question became, would there be enough good games to go around for Thursday, Sunday and Monday nights? When the NFL’s regular-season schedule was released on Thursday night, it was clear the league did its best to ensure that NBC and ESPN were happy, too.

[Check out our top 10 NFL prime-time games here.

Fox should be pleased with most of its Thursday games, NBC got a very strong slate for Sunday night, and ESPN — often chided because it has typically lagged behind in its matchups for “Monday Night Football” — got a lot of good games, too. It’s clear the NFL invested heavily in its prime-time matchups, which couldn’t have been easy considering all 32 teams got at least one prime-time game.

What better way to turn around a ratings slide than to give the best games to the most-watched shows?

<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nfl/teams/gnb" data-ylk="slk:Green Bay Packers">Green Bay Packers</a> QB Aaron Rodgers is healthy again, and will be on prime time often during the 2018 season. (AP)
Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers is healthy again, and will be on prime time often during the 2018 season. (AP)

Fox gets a solid mix of Thursday night games with big-time teams

Minutes after the NFL Network’s schedule-release show started, analyst Steve Mariucci made a bold proclamation.

“This is the best [Thursday night] schedule we’ve ever had,” Mariucci, who has been a part of the “TNF” team for years, said.

That’s bold, but there’s a lot to like about the Thursday night schedule of games.

Fox’s first Thursday night game will be Week 4 between the Minnesota Vikings and Los Angeles Rams, two strong contenders in the NFC. The Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots square off Week 5, and that has extra intrigue after Josh McDaniels left the Colts hanging this offseason.

While there are some games along the way that don’t look great on paper now — Dolphins-Texans, Broncos-Cardinals among them — there are some intriguing matchups like Saints at Cowboys and Chargers at Chiefs. It’s not like “Sunday Night Football,” which gets a marquee matchup just about every week, but Fox should be pleased.

Thursday night games

Week 1: Falcons at Eagles (NBC)
Week 2: Ravens at Bengals (NFL Network)
Week 3: Jets at Browns (NFL Network)
Week 4: Vikings at Rams (Fox, NFL Network)
Week 5: Colts at Patriots (Fox, NFL Network)
Week 6: Eagles at Giants (Fox, NFL Network)
Week 7: Broncos at Cardinals (Fox, NFL Network)
Week 8: Dolphins at Texans (Fox, NFL Network)
Week 9: Raiders at 49ers (Fox, NFL Network)
Week 10: Panthers at Steelers (Fox, NFL Network)
Week 11: Packers at Seahawks (Fox, NFL Network)
Week 12: Falcons at Saints, Thanksgiving (NBC)
Week 13: Saints at Cowboys (Fox, NFL Network)
Week 14: Jaguars at Titans (Fox, NFL Network)
Week 15: Chargers at Chiefs (Fox, NFL Network)

NBC gets the cream of the crop again

Many, many years ago, “Monday Night Football” got the best games. When NBC got into the “Sunday Night Football” game, the NFL shifted its best matchups there.

In 2018, Sunday night is still the place to be for NFL fans. If you include the traditional Week 1 Thursday night opener between the Atlanta Falcons and Minnesota Vikings, which goes to NBC, it’s about as strong of a schedule as NBC has ever been given. The only NBC games that don’t include at least one 2017 playoff team are Bears-Packers, Giants-Cowboys, Cowboys-Texans and 49ers-Seahawks, and all of those games should be very interesting.

There are great games like Chiefs-Patriots, Saints-Vikings, Packers-Patriots, Steelers-Jaguars … let’s just say NBC did well. Again. It’s an incredible slate of Sunday night games.

Sunday night games

Week 1: Bears at Packers
Week 2: Giants at Cowboys
Week 3: Patriots at Lions
Week 4: Ravens at Steelers
Week 5: Cowboys at Texans
Week 6: Chiefs at Patriots
Week 7: Rams at 49ers
Week 8: Saints at Vikings
Week 9: Packers at Patriots
Week 10: Cowboys at Eagles
Week 11: Steelers at Jaguars
Week 12: Packers at Vikings
Week 13: 49ers at Seahawks
Week 14: Steelers at Raiders
Week 15: Eagles at Rams
Week 16: Chiefs at Seahawks
Week 17: To be determined after Week 16

ESPN didn’t do too bad for Monday nights, either

It has become an annual tradition to look at ESPN’s slate of Monday night games and groan a bit. Some of this season’s Monday night matchups might not turn out to be great — nobody can predict injuries, or which teams will unexpectedly struggle — but “Monday Night Football” should have a bit of its swagger back, even though we’re still not sure who will be in the broadcast booth.

“Monday Night Football” doesn’t start great, with a mediocre New York Jets-Detroit Lions matchup for the first game of its traditional Week 1 doubleheader, but a Rams-Raiders showdown in the second game is fun. That’ll be Jon Gruden’s first game back as Raiders coach, and the Rams were easily the NFL’s most interesting team this offseason.

Not every game for ESPN is great. But of its 17 games, 12 feature at least one 2017 playoff team. And of the five other games, two include the 49ers, who come into 2018 as one of the league’s hottest teams because of how they finished last season with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. ESPN got some really fun matchups like Chiefs-Broncos, 49ers-Packers, Chiefs-Rams and Saints-Panthers. Some of the matchups could turn out to be duds, but at the moment it’s one of ESPN’s best schedules.

And as for who will be calling those “Monday Night Football” games, Kurt Warner — who is reportedly under consideration to replace Gruden — said with a flourish on NFL Network’s schedule-release show that the first thing he looked up when the schedule was released was the Monday night schedule. Maybe he was letting us all know he’ll be Gruden’s replacement. Whether it’s Warner or someone else in the booth, they’ll have some good games to call.

Monday night games

Week 1: Jets at Lions, Rams at Raiders
Week 2: Seahawks at Bears
Week 3: Steelers at Buccaneers
Week 4: Chiefs at Broncos
Week 5: Redskins at Saints
Week 6: 49ers at Packers
Week 7: Giants at Falcons
Week 8: Patriots at Bills
Week 9: Titans at Cowboys
Week 10: Giants at 49ers
Week 11: Chiefs at Rams
Week 12: Titans at Texans
Week 13: Redskins at Eagles
Week 14: Vikings at Seahawks
Week 15: Saints at Panthers
Week 16: Broncos at Raiders

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Frank Schwab is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdown.corner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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