Here we go again! Except, this time around, it feels different — for obvious reasons. We are still in the midst of a dystopian society, a global pandemic that has, among other things, wrecked sports as we know it. So even here on April 30, my version of the 2020 NFL schedule is still ahead of the league’s version. That is in large part because we don’t know if there will even be a season, and even if there is the schedule has to account for the possibility of lost games due.
But without further ado, in a time where life is in reruns and we dream about the return of sports, here is my latest installment in my now-yearly pet project. This time around, I modernized it to reflect at least mostly what the schedule looks like today (I still do long for the 2002-2005 format under the old TV deal), but still have not totally succumbed to the 2020 world where we have Thursday night games every week.
Here is the rundown of the rules, which of course I changed up a little bit this year from the past three years.
Monday Night Football is no longer the premier event
Well, get ready for a few rants — like, why is Monday Night Football not the premier game anymore? Makes no sense, but alas, we’ve had nearly a decade-and-a-half to adjust to this.
All games will be played in the USA
No, this is not some sort of patriotic statement. I love that the league wants to go global, but one London game is too much, let alone four! The league tinkered with a game in Mexico City in 2005, the only non-US game between 2002-2005, but the travel and timing has thrown the schedule out of whack. Not to mention, who wants to wake up at 9:30 AM local time to watch their team play, or lose a home game off the schedule? There are only eight of these a year; this isn’t baseball.
(Update: A few days after posting this, the league announced that there would be no international games in 2020. Its unfortunate that it took a pandemic for this to occur, but nevertheless, it’ll be nice to have a break from these 9:30 AM EST/6:30 AM PST London games).
Thursday football returns, but not at full strength
Thursday football is a scheduling nightmare, and player safety is put at risk. The opening Thursday night game makes sense because no team is playing on a “short week.” Thanksgiving football is the most pure thing about the NFL, and ideally only the Lions and Cowboys should carry on this tradition. Even a Thursday night game on Thanksgiving is overkill, but we’ll go with the original format of TNF — eight games on NFL Network, starting in November.
Week 17 is unrestricted
This is, without a doubt, the worst part of the schedule for me. I don’t even quite know why, but I’m starting to figure it out. And no, it has nothing to do with Patriots-bias, where the Pats get to play their AFC East patsies to round out every year.
First off, it’s stale. With the unveiling of the schedule back in the day, I always looked at Week 17 first. I wanted to know the unpredictable matchups on the docket that would finish off the year. Some of the best Week 17’s of all time happened because of non-divisional matchups, and it stinks to already basically know who is going to play whom in Week 17. That takes away the fun of the schedule being unveiled.
In theory it made sense what the league wanted to do, but rumor has it that this was actually born out of frustration that the Colts did not go for the perfect season in 2009, choosing to rest their players and prompting the change for 2010. I’ll give the league a sliver of credit for finally pitting the Ravens against the Steelers in Week 17 this past season. For years, this was a great hypocrisy. Sure, we’ll make all the Week 17 games divisional games so they’re more competitive… except for the matchups we want to save for primetime. This was the case with the Patriots and Jets the first seven years of this format, but now that the league has finally realized the Jets are perennial bottom-feeders, this matchup is no longer off the table.
Having Week 17 be all divisional games almost makes it feel like a different season, like the schedule-makers block off this week because of this silly rule. It also can potentially render Week 16 — yes, Week 16! — games meaningless, and in the past three years combined only one division title has actually been decided in a head-to-head matchup (last year’s 49ers-Seahawks Sunday night game).
Also, introduced in 2006 we had both CBS and Fox sharing the 4:15 national TV slot in Week 17, which is fair. So that is included now.
Flex scheduling has probably made things better, but as a purist I was still hesitant to include it. For Week 17, I left it open as the league has done since the new TV deal was implemented. Now flex scheduling starts early, but I stuck with the 2006 timeline where it started in Week 10.
Also, I refuse to acknowledge the existence of “cross-flexing.” Plain and simple, if the AFC team is the road team, the game is on CBS. If the NFC team is the road team, the game is on Fox.
Time and geography
The hardest part of the schedule usually boils down to balancing the Giants and Jets, and now the Raiders and Chargers. There is also the MLB schedule that is in play for the first month, as about eight teams prefer not to have the two teams in the city play at the same time. (As I’ll mention in a little bit, even though I was cognizant of the baseball schedule, I am realizing it is rather unlikely there will actually be a World Series, or even a baseball season, this year.)
Since the Giants and Jets share a stadium, they of course cannot be home on the same day. They also cannot play in the same time slot or the same TV network. Now, we find ourselves in the same boat with the Rams and Chargers, as they will share SoFi Stadium and replace the challenge previously presented by the Raiders and 49ers when they both inhabited the Bay Area.
Oh, and by the way, you’ll notice I stuck with the 4:15 p.m. time slot for the nationally televised games, not the silly 4:25 p.m. slot that the league implemented to take up the airwaves for a little longer.
I slightly modified the bye weeks. It used to be Weeks 3-10, but Week 3 is a tad early, so I pushed the byes back to start in Week 4 with two weeks having six teams on hiatus.
The Pro Bowl is back in Hawaii after the season!
The way it should be. Really nothing more to say there. Go back and watch highlights from some old Pro Bowls, and you’ll realize it wasn’t always this pitiful display we have now (on the mainland, no less). This all started to go downhill when the league experimented in moving the game to Miami in 2009 (and I can say that with certainty because I was there).
Saturday Night Fever
I had to grin and bear this part, too. I absolutely love the Saturday afternoon games, but in the spirit of 2006, I went with just a Saturday night game from Weeks 15-17 to appease the NFL Network’s portion of the TV package. Christmas falls on a Friday this year as it did in 2009, so instead of a Thursday or Saturday night game that week, we went with FNF (the Chargers and Titans played back in 2009).
The networks and the World Series
I did my best to keep the networks balanced, even as I realized the possibility of flex scheduling changing that. With 42 total primetime games, I took 21 apiece from CBS and Fox, but of course Week 17’s Sunday night finale is the tiebreaker. Now the math still should have added up to 42 games, but given that baseball is unlikely to be played in 2020 (then again, you could say the same for football), I begrudgingly went against my rule to never interfere with the World Series (the NFL used to care about this but then Roger Goodell, as he often does, just said the heck with it and tried to hog ratings).
Also, apologies to Lions and Redskins fans — those were the only two teams that I did not schedule a primetime game for (but at least the Lions have Thanksgiving!).
My rule of thumb in accordance with the 2002-2005 schedules was that two division rivals didn’t have their first rematch until at least Week 8. I also really try to limit three-game homestands and roadtrips, as usually you wouldn’t see more than five of the former or three of the latter in a season. This year, I hit my marks — five teams had three straight home games, and two had three-game roadtrips.
As for the primetime games, what the league used to do was be cognizant of altering home and road games, not repeating matchups if they’re division rivals, and balancing divisional and non-divisional games. No team gets more than three Monday night games nor will they get more than four primetime games overall, and when the TV deal changed, no team got scheduled (initially, at least, before flexing kicked in) more than three times on SNF. I did not give any team more than four, because the rule of thumb in the post-2005 TV deal is no more than six total. Teams also should not appear on the same primetime network more than once in a three-week span, although it’s not uncommon to have a team play a Sunday night game and Monday night game back-to-back, or vice versa. I also did not want to schedule any teams to have prime-time games in Weeks 15-16 for fear that they could break the rule of playing not three straight primetime games if they got flexed in Week 17.