I had this schedule all plotted out nicely and, then, John Clayton had to go and ruin it.
Clayton told a Pittsburgh radio station that the NFL is planning to open the season with four weeks of entirely non-conference games. The Bills, for example, would start with some combination of home for Seattle and the Rams plus road trips to San Francisco and Arizona.
So, I spent time re-configuring my predictions to reflect those two likelihoods. And…. then on Thursday, the early schedule leaks all go against Clayton’s report.
I’ll stay with the 2.0 predictions, but make one change: removing Falcons at Chiefs (which was only added to accommodate rules for the season opener per Clayton’s NFC vs. AFC early report) in favor of Texans-Chiefs.
Once again, here are the rest of the rules:
- The field is 48 games: the 16 on Sunday (not including Week 17), the 17 on Monday (two week 1 and none week 17) and 15 games on Thursday (one each for the first 15 weeks).
- No Saturday games are included. Also, there will be no predictions for the Lions and Cowboys hosted Thanksgiving afternoon games.
- Teams are usually limited to five primetime games, but can occasionally have six. These picks are limited to a max five games per team.
- Divisional games are not listed with a specific home team. (Allows me to call myself correct no matter which team hosts. Doeth the work, maketh the rules)
- No predictions on which games will be on Sunday, Monday or Thursday night (though some specifics will be noted). This is just the list of all primetime games.
- Each game is listed only once, but could fit more than one category.
- Chiefs at Ravens
- Chiefs at Saints
- Chiefs at Buccaneers
- Saints vs. Buccaneers
- Niners at Saints
- Packers at Buccaneers
- Niners vs. Seahawks
If you like offense and winners and Tom Brady, you should enjoy the primetime slate in the NFL this year. Most football fans prefer at least two of those three. NBC execs will be drooling over the possibility of New Orleans and San Fran repeating their slot machine like 48-46 game last season. Put me down for Packers-Bucs, week one on Sunday night. It will only be the 3rd time Aaron Rodgers and Brady have gone head to head.
- Cowboys vs. Eagles
- Packers vs. Bears
- Saints vs. Falcons
- Ravens vs. Steelers
Atlanta and New Orleans have had at least one game on primetime every year since 2008 except one. Baltimore and Pittsburgh have done it every year, but two, since 2006 (though the two are 2016 and 2019). The Bears and Packers have played at least one night game for 14 consecutive seasons. The Eagles and Cowboys have a 17 year streak going. We’ll keep riding all of these.
THE GOLD STANDARDS
- Cowboys at Ravens
- Niners at Cowboys
- Cowboys at Seahawks
- Cowboys at Rams
- Packers vs. Lions
- Texans at Packers
- Seahawks at Packers
The Packers have not played less than the maximum of five night time games since 2013. For the Cowboys, you have to go all the way back to 2006. These two brands will continue coming to a TV near you after dark every fall.
THE BILLS SECTION
- Steelers at Bills
- Bills vs. Patriots
- Bills at Niners
Nope, no Chiefs game. You’ll notice above the Chiefs are already the road team for three monster games. They will host the season opener, but I can’t see their 5th night game being a fourth road trip and especially not when their home venue is one of the league’s legendary facilities
Instead, I’ll take the NFL letting Pittsburgh run it back with Buffalo on Sunday night. This time, the Steelers are likely to have something better than a duck at quarterback. I’ll pick a Monday night road trip west to San Francisco.
The final pick was a change from the initial plan motivated by Clayton’s story. Originally, I had the Bills at Tennessee for a Thursday. However, the new schedule plan would have Buffalo playing the Steelers and Titans in back to back weeks. I can’t see both on primetime. The easy solution is dropping a Patriots matchup in to replace it.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK
- Cardinals at Jets
- Patriots vs. Jets
- Steelers at Giants
- Giants at Bears
Even after consecutive seasons with at least 11 losses, the Giants still had three primetime games last year. It was their lowest total in a decade. I’ve got them down for three again in 2020.
The only year the Jets had less than two evening games was 2017 when they were all but advertising a season of tanking for a quarterback. Jets vs. Browns was an original pick, but the limit on non-common games forced its removal in favor of another New England-New York battle.
THE HOT TEAMS
- Buccaneers at Raiders
- Falcons vs. Buccaneers
- Chargers vs. Raiders
- Broncos vs. Raiders
From the department of “2020 Remains Upside Down”, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are arguably the NFL’s most attractive commodity this year. It’s not just Tom Brady. It’s Gronk and Mike Evans and Chris Godwin and an offense that could be Kansas City south. If it doesn’t work, watching Brady melt down will be ratings gold, too.
I know the Raiders aren’t super, but I think the NFL pushes all in on the Las Vegas move. I’m all in on Brady and the Bucs breaking in the new stadium with a week two Monday Night game (“All in”… “Vegas”… I’m quite clever).
REALLY GOOD, BUT WITH A SLIGHT SCENT OF 4:25PM
- Eagles at Steelers
- Vikings at Saints
- Vikings at Seahawks
- Patriots at Chiefs
- Bears vs. Vikings
I’m bucking the trend with Eagles-Steelers. The PA rivals have never met in a night game. As good as the Chiefs road schedule looks, their home schedule is almost trash thanks to the offseason weakening in Houston and Foxboro. The best options for an opponent in the traditional season opener hosted by the Super Bowl champ are Houston, New England and then… Atlanta? The Chargers? My pick is the Pats.
Speaking of the Fighting Belichicks, I have them down for three prime time games, thanks mostly to their first place schedule and… curiosity. I could see them getting five. I could see two or maybe even one. They are Enigma #1 for 2020.
A LONG FLIGHT HOME
- Eagles at Niners
- Rams at Eagles
I really tried to avoid picking too many cross country flights. They won’t happen for any Thursday games and Monday is not ideal, either. The problem this year is that the AFC East and NFC West plays half their schedules against teams on the other coast (the other two East/West divisions have at least four such games).
I had five coast to coast night games this year after five last year. The Eagles at least get to host one and travel to one in my schedule.
DIVISION GAMES JUST BECAUSE
- Steelers vs. Browns
- Browns vs. Ravens
- Titans vs. Colts
- Rams vs. Cardinals
- Vikings vs. Lions
Most years, there are at least 20 divisional games as part of the primetime lineup. 2018 was an exception with only 17. My initial list had ten division games, total. That ain’t gonna fly, so I rearranged a few matchups to create more (this final list has 16). The Clayton rearrangement knocked out a Titans-Texans game in favor of Rams-Cardinals. I have Kyler Murray under the lights twice and it still feels low.
- Texans at Chiefs
- Ravens at Eagles
- Titans at Vikings
My original list had nine night games matching out of conference teams and 12 of the non-common variety. There will, instead, be 13 primetime games during the first four out of conference weeks if Clayton is right (3 each weeks 2-4 and four during week 1 because of the double Monday Nighter).
These three were added along with Denver-Carolina below to square the out of conference number. Some of the non-common games removed have been noted throughout this list.
THE ONE AND DONE’S
- Dolphins at Broncos
- Bengals at Colts
- Giants vs. Washington
- Broncos at Panthers
Even with Tua, can’t see the Dolphins getting much night time love. Same goes for Joe Burrow and the Bengals, but there’s a historical precedent here. Four of the last five QB’s to be picked number one overall in the draft had exactly one primetime game scheduled for their rookie season. Interesting caveat: will the later schedule release (after the draft for the first time ever) allow for more reaction to the draft? I’m guessing not much because the schedule process is months not weeks long.
Washington often gets dragged into night games by their popular division opponents. I was going to leave Carolina out all together, but figured the fantasy owners locked into Christian McCaffrey deciding their game would make the Panthers good for one Monday Nighter.
GOOD, BUT LEFT OUT
- Steelers at Cowboys
- Cowboys at Vikings
- Chiefs at Bills
- Seahawks at Bills
- Niners at Patriots
- Patriots at Seahawks
The Steelers and Cowboys have not played a night game since 1991. I’m going against enough history with Steelers-Eagles, so I’ll bow down this time. The rest of these are cross country trips that did not make the cut (even after the Clayton news broke), the Bills-Chiefs game I explained earlier and Patriots games that would have been in the “mortal lock” category with Brady still around.
TOTALLY LEFT OUT
- Jacksonville Jaguars
They have little hope. They might be tanking. Their best offensive weapon is a potentially washed up running back (for now). Their QB is most known for his mustache. Nothing says “get the hell off my TV” like the 2020 Jaguars. Therefore, I foresee no occasions of Doug Marrone on primetime this year. They are the only team getting goose egg’ed on my list.
These are not official predictions, but since I did all the work… here’s a bonus.
Bears at Lions, Cardinals at Cowboys on Thanksgiving. Would be three in a row for Bears in Detroit on Thanksgiving. A young QB in year two facing Dallas worked out pretty good last year. Why not try it again.
This was actually a fun exercise. Interested to see how many I get right on Thursday. I’m fairly sure, of all the mock schedules you’ll read, this one was the best.