Which network got the best marquee games? A review of NFL's 2019 prime-time schedule

Yahoo Sports

The NFL has a challenge keeping all of its television network partners happy when it makes the schedule.

Once “Thursday Night Football” became a bigger priority, with a huge Fox contract, that meant the NFL had to put some quality matchups on Thursdays while maintaining NBC’s Sunday night lineup as its No. 1 priority. The NFL also had to make sure ESPN wasn’t left out for “Monday Night Football.” Oh, and Fox and CBS need good Sunday afternoon games, too.

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The NFL probably did its best job in 2018. Not all the prime-time games turned out well — having the San Francisco 49ers scheduled for five prime-time games turned bad when quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo tore his ACL early in the season, and issues like that are impossible to predict — but the league had a good feel for how to maximize its prime-time schedule with compelling matchups.

[For the full 2019 NFL regular-season schedule, click here.]

Did the NFL do as well this year? Let’s review the prime-time schedules (but first let’s give a nod to the 10 teams that got the maximum of five prime-time games this season: Patriots, Eagles, Vikings, Bears, Cowboys, Chiefs, Packers, Seahawks, Steelers and Rams):

‘Thursday Night Football’ gets a mixed bag

Thursday nights used to be the slot in which the NFL stuck its worst teams, in order to give each club one prime-time game over the season. A new, lucrative agreement with Fox changed that. The NFL started funneling better teams and games to Thursday.

This season is a mixed bag. There are some fun matchups like the Philadelphia Eagles at Green Bay Packers (Week 4); Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns (Week 11); and Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans (Week 12) — but it’s not a strong slate from top to bottom. Relatively dull tams like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Jacksonville Jaguars and Arizona Cardinals needed to get their one prime-time game, and they were put on Thursday nights.

Fans will have chances to see Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) in prime time this season. (AP)
Fans will have chances to see Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) in prime time this season. (AP)

Included in this list are all the games in prime time on Thursdays this season, including the season opener (which is on NBC) and the third Thanksgiving game:

Week 1: Green Bay at Chicago

Week 2: Tampa Bay at Carolina

Week 3: Tennessee at Jacksonville

Week 4: Philadelphia at Green Bay

Week 5: L.A. Rams at Seattle

Week 6: N.Y. Giants at New England

Week 7: Kansas City at Denver

Week 8: Washington at Minnesota

Week 9: San Francisco at Arizona

Week 10: L.A. Chargers at Oakland

Week 11: Pittsburgh at Cleveland

Week 12: Indianapolis at Houston

Week 13: New Orleans at Atlanta (Thanksgiving)

Week 14: Dallas at Chicago

Week 15: N.Y. Jets at Baltimore

The best games go to Sunday night, again

The NFL wants NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” to be its showcase. NBC has to be thrilled with the schedule.

It’s hard to find a bad matchup in the bunch. And even if one turns sour, the NFL can use flex scheduling later in the season to swap it out. Games like the Los Angeles Rams at the Cleveland Browns (Week 3); Indianapolis Colts at Kansas City Chiefs (Week 5); Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys (Week 7); or Green Bay Packers at Kansas City Chiefs (Week 8) have “game-of-the-year” potential.

It’s clear from this lineup of games, the NFL wants to make sure “SNF” remains a ratings powerhouse:

Week 1: Pittsburgh at New England

Week 2: Philadelphia at Atlanta

Week 3: L.A. Rams at Cleveland

Week 4: Dallas at New Orleans

Week 5: Indianapolis at Kansas City

Week 6: Pittsburgh at L.A. Chargers

Week 7: Philadelphia at Dallas

Week 8: Green Bay at Kansas City

Week 9: New England at Baltimore

Week 10: Minnesota at Dallas

Week 11: Chicago at L.A. Rams

Week 12: Seattle at Philadelphia

Week 13: New England at Houston

Week 14: Seattle at L.A. Rams

Week 15: Minnesota at L.A. Chargers

Week 16: Kansas City at Chicago

Week 17: To be determined based on playoff scenarios

Monday nights might not have much sizzle

For many years since ESPN took over “Monday Night Football,” that franchise seemed like a bit of an afterthought. The NFL put its best games on Sunday night, often leaving ESPN with what seemed like second-tier games. Last year’s schedule might have been, from top to bottom, the best ESPN has had.

This season’s schedule seems like ESPN got a lot of leftovers again. It starts strong, with the Houston Texans at New Orleans Saints in the first game of the Week 1 Monday night doubleheader. But the next time there’s a game between two 2018 playoff teams will be Nov. 18, when the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers play in Mexico City. A week later the Baltimore Ravens play at the Los Angeles Rams, in Week 15 the Indianapolis Colts play at the New Orleans Saints, and those are the only “MNF” games between two teams coming off postseason berths.

ESPN will be hoping great matchups emerge, like perhaps a Green Bay Packers-Minnesota Vikings game in Week 16 that could have huge playoff implications:

Week 1: Houston at New Orleans; Denver at Oakland

Week 2: Cleveland at New York Jets

Week 3: Chicago at Washington

Week 4: Cincinnati at Pittsburgh

Week 5: Cleveland at San Francisco

Week 6: Detroit at Green Bay

Week 7: New England at N.Y. Jets

Week 8: Miami at Pittsburgh

Week 9: Dallas at N.Y. Giants

Week 10: Seattle at San Francisco

Week 11: Kansas City at L.A. Chargers

Week 12: Baltimore at L.A. Rams

Week 13: Minnesota at Seattle

Week 14: N.Y. Giants at Philadelphia

Week 15: Indianapolis at New Orleans

Week 16: Green Bay at Minnesota

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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! Follow @YahooSchwab

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