I've got thoughts on the 2020 NFL schedule. Because of course I do.
There is not much else to analyze right now in American team sports, and every little thing matters in a league where so little often separates the good teams from the also-rans. And there is definitely something to be said for schedule-related factors like catching an opponent when they are road-weary, or tired, or decimated by injuries. Timing, and some luck, certainly are factors in sorting all of this out.
So, sure, there are winners and losers from a schedule release in the middle of May (unless of course the league has to end up scrapping this entire effort because of the pandemic that has ravaged the health and economy of this country to a degree never before seen, with no end in sight). Perhaps the most telling thing of all from the schedule release is how many teams aren't actually selling single game tickets anytime soon and are hedging their bets that things will in fact go on as planned (even with empty stadiums).
But, alas, we have months to worry about all of that. For now, let's bask in the novelty of scheduled football games, with potential ramifications for a 2020 Lombardi Trophy. And in many cases, the rich seem to get richer from this schedule.
A big win for Baltimore
The Ravens, 14-2 a year ago with a 22-year old MVP QB, can pretty much leave the tea plane in a hanger somewhere. Baltimore doesn't leave the Eastern Time Zone after Week 2, I don't see anything longer than a one-hour flight all season after that Week 2 trip to Houston, they will end up busing to at least one game (45 minutes down the road to DC) or taking a train to at least one road game (Philly), and the toughest out-of-division games on the schedule are at home (Cowboys, Chiefs). Factor in a well-placed bye and all those prime-time games, and no one in Owings Mills can be grumbling.
The Pick Six Podcast gang fired up a new episode breaking down every eye-catching aspect of the NFL's schedule release. Give it a listen below, and be sure to subscribe on your favorite podcast platform:
Brady has sunny days ahead
Tom Brady will be getting his tan on. No more snow games. No more freezing temps in December. He might not even see many clouds. And at age 43, after two decades in Foxborough, he's all about that. He plays at the Giants on Nov. 2 (could be chilly) then basks in the warmth of a schedule that concludes: home, at Carolina, home, home, home, dome (Atlanta), dome (Detroit), home. Start planning the parade routes.
Niners set up nicely
The 49ers were regular-season beasts as well in 2019, and nearly won a Super Bowl. Given their locale, travel is never going to be too easy. But they get both New York teams on the road back-to-back early in the season to get it out of the way; they can set up shop in one facility for two weeks (assuming that is allowed given the COVID-19 situation in NYC), and they don't travel for another month after making that trip. They don't have a significant flight after early November. That's a 'W' for them.
The Bills appear to me to be on the cusp of a real breakthrough and the league office tends to agree. I cannot remember the last time Buffalo had four prime-time games, and they have three of them in December alone, when I expect them to be cementing their AFC East title and the changing of the guard with the Patriots.
Pats facing bumpy road
Speaking of the Pats, post Tom Brady, I have one word: godspeed. New England goes through a midseason stretch where it faces Kyler Murray, Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson in a row – that defense suffered once it started facing real QBs last year – and while the degree of difficulty lessens in December, that might be too late. In a "bad" year under Bill Belichick, New England loses five or six games; I could see that happening in the first 10 weeks alone this season (at Seattle, Raiders, at KC, Denver, San Fran, at Buffalo and hosting Baltimore all before Thanksgiving). New era indeed.
More insider notes about the 2020 NFL schedule
- The Packers have long looked like the poster boys for 2020 regression to me, and this schedule does them few favors. They could be 0-3 by the end of September (at Vikings, host Lions, who outplayed them when Matt Stafford was healthy last year, and at Saints). Then they go to Tom Brady's Bucs in Week 5 before facing the Vikings again and then going to San Francisco. The second-half schedule eases up … but has Aaron Rodgers already asked for a trade by then? I'm joking. At least I think I am. Probably.
- Pencil the Falcons in for yet another slow start, which they have turned into a cottage industry. Their first four games: Seattle, at Dallas, Chicago, at Green Bay. Smells like 1-3 to me (which will start the countdown to a regime change for like the third straight year). They'll probably rebound in the middle but then finish with the Saints, at the Chargers, Tampa, at KC and at Tampa to end their season. That will be a problem.
- The Saints' bid for the top seed in the NFC could come down to a critical stretch in the final quarter of the season. Check out Weeks 12-14, where they play three straight road games, including two where weather could be a factor for a dome team (Denver, Atlanta and Philly), before hosting the Chiefs and the Vikings to close it all out. That will test any team.
- The NFL is intent on showing off that Las Vegas skyline, and glistening new stadium, under the lights. The Raiders are prime-time darlings at home this season.
- Fitting that the Chargers play their first game in their new stadium against the Super Bowl winners.
- Find me any part of the Jets schedule where even the most ardent Gang Green supporter could look at it and say, "Okay here is where they start to turn it around."
- Things set up very nicely for the Steelers to return to the postseason. They get to feast on the NFC East, the Browns have a rookie head coach and the Bengals are early in a new regime too with no offseason to break in their rookie QB. They get a bye after going to Baltimore in October for that annual grudge match, and they don't have any West Coast games (Dallas is their longest trip).