The NFL schedule release has become a big deal, mostly because everything with the NFL becomes a big deal.
Even scheduling the scheduling release is a big deal. There was a report Monday morning that the league might not be ready to release the schedule Thursday, but then the NFL said the schedule will be released at 8 p.m. ET Thursday.
The schedule will have some notable changes, according to NBC Sports' Peter King and ESPN's Adam Schefter. There will be more flexibility in late afternoon games. For many years, AFC games have been on CBS and NFC games on Fox (for interconference games, the road team determined the network), but now networks with the late afternoon game can broadcast a game from either conference, King reported. That will lead to better matchups in the late slot.
There will be a "Black Friday" game the day after Thanksgiving for the first time, Schefter said.
Another change, presumably to improve the quality of prime-time games, is that not every NFL team will be guaranteed at least one prime-time game per season anymore, Schefter said. That's presumably related to teams being allowed to appear on "Thursday Night Football" twice a season instead of being limited to once. NFL owners voted to pass that rule in March.
For years, the NFL allowed each team a prime-time game. That led to some bad matchups, many of which landed on Thursday nights.
While predicting which teams will be good when the NFL sets the schedule in May is tough to do, and the rule takes a big game away from a team that might not have many other highlights in its season. Major League Baseball's national television coverage revolves around a few big-market teams, which doesn't help in markets that feel mostly ignored. The NFL has always done a great job preventing a divide between large and small markets, but the prime-time rule isn't great for that.
The NFL is tinkering with the schedule. We'll see if the changes are good. Either way, we'll know all 272 matchups and the dates on Thursday.