The NFL officially released its 2019 schedule Wednesday night, and this much we can say for sure: It includes 256 regular-season games, with 32 teams each playing 16 times.
Now’s not the time — not at this site, anyway — for predictions. So what exactly can we say definitively on April 17 about the centennial docket of the most powerful sports league in the world?
Here are 8 scheduling notes that interest us and might interest you too:
• Ten teams drew the maximum allotment of primetime games — the Bears, Cowboys, Packers, Rams, Seahawks, Eagles, Vikings, Patriots, Steelers and Chiefs. There aren’t necessarily any big surprises among them, but the 70-30 split between conferences suggests on paper anyway that the NFC is viewed as the stronger lot.
Of course, that was also the case entering 2018, when the AFC still finished with the better overall winning percentage and more competitive playoff field.
• We fully expected the league to be all in on the Browns — and it didn’t disappoint, putting Baker Mayfield and Co. under the bright lights four times. However, the team with the quarterback selected immediately after Mayfield — Sam Darnold’s New York Jets — getting three primetime tilts is a bit surprising. That’s the same number as the Baltimore Ravens, who are now led by the final quarterback selected in the first round last year, Lamar Jackson.
Interestingly, the Arizona Cardinals, who at least for now remain led by Josh Rosen, only commanded one game under the lights, or one more than Josh Allen’s Bills, the NFL’s only full-on primetime snub.
• Who doesn’t love a good, old revenge narrative?
We won’t have to wait long for one of the highly anticipated conference title rematches, as the Saints visit the Rams in Week 2. But the growing Patriots-Chiefs rivalry won’t be renewed until Week 14, which is just as well given that the stakes should be significant by then.
Le’Veon Bell’s Jets battle the Steelers in Week 16. Earl Thomas’ Ravens host the Seahawks in Week 7. Mayfield and his Browns face his former college coach Kliff Kingsbury’s Cardinals in Week 15, when Cleveland’s new DC Steve Wilks sees the team that dumped him after only one season. The list goes on but we should also add the Bears and Eagles meeting after their January wild-card battle, with Jordan Howard joining Alshon Jeffery and Cre’Von LeBlanc in Philly following his trade from Chicago.
• In a QB-driven league, it’s difficult not to get amped for a Sunday-night clash between MVPs past and present in Aaron Rodgers’ Packers visiting Pat Mahomes' Chiefs in Week 8, and of course another Mahomes-Brady encounter, to which we alluded to earlier.
Although neither are MVPs — yet — Drew Brees and Deshaun Watson hooking up for the first time right out of the gate in Week 1 should be a lot of fun. We’re also strangely curious to see the first and second overall picks in the 2015 draft — the Bucs’ Jameis Winston and Titans’ Marcus Mariota — collide for the first time (and last with their current teams?) since their NFL starting debuts.
• Speaking of the Bucs, we were attempting to find which club is set to log the most frequent flier miles when ESPN’s Adam Schefter dropped this nugget: “The Bucs will not play in Tampa Bay from 9/22 until 11/10, a stretch that includes five consecutive road games (two west-coast trips and a London game).
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Rough. And worth remembering that new coach Bruce Arians bowed out of his previous post with the Cardinals in part because of the toll the job took on him. This will be a challenging stretch for that club, much like the Packers and rookie HC Matt LaFleur playing six of their final nine on the road, including a pair of west-coast jaunts and a trip to New Jersey to play the Giants.
Also courtesy of Schefter, the Raiders will go from Sept. 15 to Nov. 3 without playing in Oakland, a span that includes four road games and a call from London to clash with the Bears. Insert your own joke about the Raiders’ final season in Oakland here. And thanks to Peter Schrager for adding to the Raiders’ scheduling context with this note: They’ll play seven 1 p.m. EST games. That seems … wrong.
• Say what you will about the folly that is “Thursday Night Football,” but there will certainly be plenty of familiarity with eight of the 13 contests pitting division foes. We guess we’ll settle in for Big Ben vs. Baker for the first time with both clubs likely to be in the hunt. Mahomes’ Chiefs challenging a Broncos ‘D’ now led by Vic Fangio? We’re here for it. And here’s to hoping the Colts and Texans recapture the competitiveness of last year’s regular season series and not another problematic postseason for Houston.
Division battles not your thing? What about the Patriots and Giants (would this still go in the revenge category?) or a pair of division winners — the Bears and Cowboys — hooking up in December? We’re cautiously optimistic about the “TNF” slate this year.
• As for the International Series, it kicks off with Gruden’s Raiders and Mack’s Bears cutting the NFL ribbon on London’s new Tottenham Larkspur Stadium in Week 5. The following week, the Buccaneers and Panthers meet before the action moves to Wembley in Weeks 8-9 with the Rams-Bengals and Jaguars-Texans, respectively.
In Mexico City this year we’re once again expecting the Chiefs, who (we hope) will get to battle the Chargers in Week 11 to conclude the 2019 International Series. Remember, Azteca Stadium was so chewed up by a Shakira concert last season that the K.C.-Rams game ultimately was moved to L.A.
The Chargers snapped their nine-game skid against the Chiefs in December last year. Is it the Bolts' turn to start a streak of their own?
• Finally, more so than an observation on the schedule, we want to point out what an awesome job some of the teams social media departments did in unveiling theirs Wednesday night. The NFL rarely can get out of its own way, but credit clubs like the Chargers, Falcons and Jaguars for their outstanding creativity in producing video reveals.
The Chargers hilarious video is culled entirely from stock photos and backed by a sped-up version of the NFL theme song. It’s tremendous.
The Falcons opted to piggyback off Game of Thrones mania to the delight of seemingly all of Twitter.
Jacksonville pulled no punches in a game show-style vid basically roasting everyone of their opponents with personal barbs that would make even trash-talk extraordinaire Jalen Ramsey blush. Our personal favorite is the Week 16 Falcons preview, in which they show a bird in the oven: “For the perfect bird every time, just set it to 283 degrees and forget it.”
The Browns, who have been winning the offseason on social media as much as on the trade market, did a spoof of GM John Dorsey receiving the schedule via a dial-up modem, old AOL account and printing it on an old Epsom tally printer. Fooball is fun again in Cleveland.