NFL Schedule Thoughts: Ratings Gems, Monday Night Football, CBS’s Big Win

The 2020 NFL schedule is set. Call me lame, but those shows last night, that were as long as a football game, were awesome. And there was nothing better on.

Here are my biggest takeaways:

Chiefs-Ravens huge for ESPN, but scheduled far too early

When was the last time Monday Night Football got the best matchup coming into the season? Yeah, I don’t know either.

This is a major win for ESPN — but not for the fans. Not because it’s on ESPN — fans don’t care — because it’s foolishly scheduled too early in the season (Week 3). Teams are 60% of what they’ll be in the first three weeks of the year. The truncated offseason will make that even worse. Kansas City and Baltimore are the clear top two teams in the conference. The AFC Super Bowl representative could merely be determined by which team gets the now only first-round bye.

It’s anticlimactic to decide the tiebreaker three weeks in. Jon Snow didn’t battle the White Walkers in the first season. Tony Soprano didn’t go to war with New York in episode No. 3. You build toward the climax.

What’s more, if the season doesn’t start on time, it could be the month of September that falls victim. Chiefs at Ravens is September 28…

Ratings gems

CBS was handed a diamond last night. Its Steelers-Cowboys matchup in the national window on November 8 will draw a massive average. 28.9 million viewers tuned in the last time the storied franchises faced off in 2016. The Cowboys are the biggest television draw in sports. The Steelers are in the running, and maybe the front-runners, for second. Every network that has aired a Super Bowl had hoped for this pairing.

FOX has a blockbuster in Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay debut against New Orleans. Though, it surprises me it’s scheduled for Week 1. Brady’s Bucs debut and the first matchup with the Saints were Tampa Bay’s two most intriguing matchups. Pairing the two and not double-dipping is a bit confusing.

I said it earlier this week: Bucs-Packers will be the highest-viewed non-Cowboys game of the season. There’s a decent chance the Week 6 afternoon showdown is the last time we get Aaron Rodgers vs. Tom Brady. Pregame hype will be through the roof. As will the viewership.

Thursday Nights > Sunday Nights?

Sunday afternoons are the best. Sunday nights have been a close-second. But Sunday Night Football is in for a fierce battle for No. 2 this year. Thursday Night Football features some of the most anticipated games on the schedule: 49ers-Packers, Ravens-Cowboys, Baker-Burrow. And neither series has any missable games. Excluding, of course, TNF’s Week 2 Jag-Dolphins, the NFL Network throwaway special.

Thursday Night Football, since its move to FOX, has a mystique to it. An end to two-straight dreadful days without football. Appetizers are more effective than deserts. Especially after seven hours of snacks.

A Christmas Game

I love the decision to put a game on Christmas Day (Vikings at Saints, 4:30 p.m. ET on FOX). It’s far better than keeping Thursday Night Football put on Christmas Eve, a poor television night. Some sports fans are upset they will have to choose between the NFL and NBA — but that’s only a dilemma for a few. The NBA’s regular-season product isn’t for all-day viewing. There aren’t enough teams of national interest and the games don’t have enough importance to dedicate an entire day to. This past Christmas Day the NBA’s ratings took a noticeable dip. We’re likely to get the Lakers game at night after Saints-Vikings. Which will set up an incredible Christmas afternoon.

So, A Christmas Story at noon it is.

Winners

Around 75% of 3-0 teams make the playoffs. Philadelphia is in the best position to do that. The Eagles should be favored in their first three games: at Redskins, Rams, and at Bengals. As long as the entire team doesn’t go down again, the Eagles will be contenders for home-field advantage from start-to-finish.

Baltimore was a winner before the schedule release as the home team in the crucial matchup with the Chiefs. If Kansas City suffers from the irresistible Super Bowl hangover, it won’t be gone by the third week of the season. The Ravens final six opponents missed the playoffs last season. The league’s most talented team will enter the playoffs with momentum.

Losers

I’m higher on the Texans than most but — yikes. Houston’s got punished with its first four games: opening night at Kansas City, Baltimore, a talented Pittsburgh team, and a matchup nightmare in Minnesota. You know the numbers: only 11% of NFL teams to start 0-2 make the playoffs. The odds are worse for 0-4 starts.

Prediction: New Orleans will disappoint this season. The Saints aren’t going to want to battle for a playoff spot late. Weeks 14-16 consist of the Eagles, Chiefs, and Vikings. No team is looking to trade early-season schedules, either. The Saints welcome in Aaron Rodgers just two weeks after a Week 1 visit from Tom Brady.

Written by Bobby Burack

Bobby Burack covers media, politics, and sports at OutKick.