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.
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.
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.
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
– – – – – – –
More from Yahoo Sports: