Aaron Rodgers nearly upended the NFL schedule two years ago when he told some within the Green Bay Packers organization he didn’t want to return to the team.
For the sake and sanity of those in the league’s scheduling department, cooler heads prevailed.
Rodgers was on the move during this offseason with his trade to the New York Jets, but it was planned well enough in advance that the league and its network partners could get in their requests. The Jets will make six prime-time appearances and have four games in the Sunday afternoon late window (4:25 p.m. ET).
“Navigating the process was largely about Aaron and his future,” Fox EVP, Head of Strategy and Analytics Mike Mulvihill said. “There’s always a lot of focus on marquee quarterbacks that could change teams. And that was certainly the case this year.”
For the second straight year, ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” gets a marquee QB making his debut with another team when the Jets host the Buffalo Bills on Sept. 11. Russell Wilson’s first game with Denver, which coincidentally was in Seattle, averaged 19.85 million viewers, the most watched Monday night game since ESPN took over the package in 2006.
Three of the Jets’ first four games are in a national widow. The Sept. 17 game at Dallas is the featured CBS game in the late window, and Rodgers’ first meeting with Patrick Mahomes is on NBC's “Sunday Night Football” on Oct. 1 when the Jets host Kansas City.
CBS has at least eight Jets games, with Fox, ESPN, NBC, and Amazon Prime Video getting two apiece. The league does not set networks for all Week 18 games until after Week 17.
Even though this was the first year of the NFL’s new television package, where any game could go to any network, most of the past structure remains in place. Over 90% of Fox’s schedule features at least one NFC team, while CBS remains the top network for the AFC’s top teams.
CBS will have 13 games where both teams are from the NFC, but it still has most of the top AFC matchups.
“The process continues to be more and more collaborative. And the fact that the NFL had so much flexibility for the AFC and NFC packages benefited everybody,” CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus said. “The good news is, even though we have all these great NFC games, we’re still the conference of the AFC, which means we get the benefit of all these star quarterbacks.”
Among other notes and reactions from Thursday night’s NFL schedule release:
MAXIMIZING THE CHIEFS
CBS has the defending Super Bowl champions for eight games, including six appearances in the late afternoon window.
McManus said the top game on the network’s wish list was the AFC championship game rematch between Kansas City and the Cincinnati Bengals, which will be on Dec. 31. There’s also Buffalo at Kansas City on Dec. 10, which many thought might be a prime-time game.
The Dec. 25 game between the Chiefs and Las Vegas Raiders will also be the Nickelodeon broadcast. It will be the second straight year the slime-filled broadcast will be on Christmas Day. NBC has the Chiefs three times, ESPN/ABC twice, and Fox, NFL Network, and Prime Video one time each.
CBS is also the network for Super Bowl 58 in Las Vegas.
FOX AND AMERICA’S TEAM
With Rodgers heading to the Jets and Tom Brady’s retirement, Fox’s priority, more than other years, was ensuring it had as many Dallas Cowboys games as possible.
The Cowboys are on Fox nine times, including six in the late Sunday 4:25 p.m. ET window.
“I’m not exaggerating at all; we spent more time talking about what our fifth-best Dallas game would be than we spent talking about the No. 1 game on our schedule. Because if you are going to get eight or nine Dallas appearances, you’re going to have a couple of blockbusters,” Mulvihill said. “Last year, we had only three at 4:25, so that’s a big change that’s driven mostly by the departures of Brady and Rodgers.”
The key Fox Cowboys games are at Philadelphia on Nov. 5, Nov. 12 against the New York Giants, at Buffalo on Dec. 17, and Dec. 24 at Miami.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK
Amazon Prime Video got its preference for the first Black Friday game. It wanted the game in New York and ended up getting an AFC East matchup between the Jets and Miami Dolphins on Nov. 24.
“We said, all things being equal, we’d love to start this new holiday tradition in New York. And so they were able to come through with that and an awesome game,” said Marie Donoghue, Amazon’s Vice President of Global Sports Video.
The second “Thursday Night Football” season on Prime Video will make its first trips to Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Dallas, Las Vegas, and New Orleans.
The Chicago Bears, Steelers, Saints, and Jets will make multiple appearances on Prime Video this year after owners approved allowing teams to play more than one game on a four- or five-day week. That means the Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, Houston Texans, and Indianapolis Colts will not have any prime-time games this season.
“I think we were already headed in that direction, to some extent already, with the additional Thursday night game we had already added and now adding Black Friday, said Hans Schroeder, the Executive Vice President of NFL Media, about teams making multiple appearances on a short week. ”We’re giving our fans the most appropriate matchups to go into a national window. And that was a way to really help the Thursday night package, and do so in a way that we think was appropriate. "
MONDAY NIGHT MANIA
Besides having flex scheduling beginning in Week 12 for the first time, ESPN has two of the more anticipated games. It has Rodgers’ Jets debut and the Super Bowl rematch between the Eagles and Chiefs on Nov. 20.
“I would argue we’ve got the best two games on the entire board,” said ESPN President of Content Burke Magnus.
There will be games on both ABC and ESPN on Sept. 18, Sept. 25, and Dec. 11. The Dec. 25 game between Baltimore and San Francisco will be on ABC since ESPN has an entire day of NBA matchups.
The Cowboys also make two MNF appearances this season, marking the first time that has happened since the package moved to ESPN in 2006.
SOMETHING BLUE, SOMETHING NEW
For the fifth time since NBC started airing “Sunday Night Football” in 2006, the first Sunday night game will be between the Giants and Cowboys. The Sept. 10 game also marks the 13th time they have met on SNF.
NBCUniversal’s Peacock streaming service will have a game for the first time. That will be on Dec. 23 when the Buffalo Bills face the Los Angeles Chargers. The Cincinnati Bengals vs. Pittsburgh Steelers matchup on NBC will be preceded by that.
“We spent a lot of time with the NFL and had productive meetings about the proper positioning of that (Peacock) game,” NBC Sports Chairman Pete Bevacqua said. “We think that’s going to be a great combination of using the power of NBC with that late-afternoon game and driving that audience to Peacock for the regular-season exclusive game.”
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