I have a confession to make: I'm not a big schedule-release guy.
Doesn't do much for me. Seems to be becoming an excessively bloated exercise. That doesn't mean I won't be playing along, at least to some degree (possibly as an official scorer of a Little League game), as Global Football Consumers digest the dump of dates and times and opponents and begin assessing who got hosed by the league and who got an easy ride.
I'll have some thoughts to share by Friday, I'm sure … but I'm also old enough to remember when no one knew exactly when schedule-release day was, no one ever considered really talking about when schedule-release day was, and it just sort of happened quietly. Some afternoon in the spring the fax machine (you can google it, kids) in the sports department at the newspaper (most sadly of all, google it, kids) hummed, someone eventually noticed the paper laying there and read it. (The beat writer wasn't at the team facility that day, because no one was, because OTAs hadn't become a media event yet, either). Turns out the fax was the local NFL team's schedule for the upcoming season and someone on the desk cobbled together a 10-inch story (google it) that probably lacked a byline ("staff reports") and that was it. Life went on.
Long time, and many, many BlackBerrys ago.
Sorry to go all full Prisco on everybody here, but excuse me if I don't view this as appointment television -- the release of a schedule that won't be played for another half-year for games in which we already know who the opponents will be. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little concerned about where this is going. Because it could get nice and weird.
At the risk of giving any suits on Park Avenue any ideas, how far off are we from the schedule-release show morphing into a bizarre draft of sorts; an even more MADE FOR TV exercise? Can you too envision a future where one fan is selected to represent each team (or one actor, wrassler, Reality TV schlub, singer, TikToker, whatever) as well as one player from that team, for a rotating event held in the spring in one NFL city (or maybe, down the road, in London or Munich or Mexico City)? Are you seein' what I'm seein'?
These 64 individuals are held in a green room (some for possibly hours or more as the drama unfolds) during the entire pre-show, and then at 8 p.m. ET we are live, beginning with an on-stage lottery to select the order in which each couplet will begin to be called to the stage. When it's their turn, they are called up, two-by-two, to shake hands with The Commish before striding up to the mic. There is a two-minute clock (this, along with time for commercials, ensures we go at least two hours for TV) to allow for the obligatory time to take a selfie, post it, make a quick FaceTime call. If you go over two minutes, you get sent to the back of the line and lose your turn. Furthermore, if you can't resist the urge to go full Marinaro, and do in fact run out the clock, the fan and player get yanked off the stage with a cane a la "The Gong Show" style (if you are under the age of 35 you might as well bail on this column now).
Our first couplet (if you are going to use this term in a quasi-football column, then you must ride it hard) then reaches into a large fishbowl, adorned with logos from official league sponsors, which holds 136 plastic balls, each with the dates/times/opponent/rightsholder for one NFL game written inside. Lucky Couplet No. 1 pulls a random ball as the band on stage blares away (if you pull a ball holding one of your team's games you get another go) and then we watch, enraptured, as the entire schedule comes to life – all 18 weeks – game by game as it's stacked on a massive Big Board (like the draft) behind the stage? Maybe we get really crazy with it and throw in some extra balls which contain the bye weeks for a team or division or something wacky like that?
Would it really surprise anyone if that's where this thing goes by, Oh, I don't know, 2026? Official gaming sponsors of the NFL could post odds on which couplet will take the longest on the clock, who will pick first, who will pick 127th, who picks the first bye ball. Which team's schedule will be fully formed on the Big Board first? Who is the first person to get Gong Show ganked off the stage? Who gives Rog the longest hug?
Okay, we'll see where that goes (and if anything like this ever comes to pass, I deserve at the very least an Executive Producer/Creator credit to add to my resume, right?). In the meantime, here are some of the things I am most intrigued to actually see unfold when the big reveal takes place Thursday with sufficient fanfare:
When is the Browns bye? How many prime-time games in the first two months of the season?
The NFL isn't going to weigh in on Deshaun Watson anytime soon. It'll probably come pretty close to the start of the regular season. But there may be some obvious clues about where this discipline might be going from the schedule itself. Even if it's a lesser suspension, would the league want this QB in prime time early in the year? My suspicion is they would not want that to be a major talking point as the season is kicking off, despite the Browns becoming one of the more talked about franchises this offseason.
What does the AFC West divisional schedule look like down the stretch? Any team at home more than others in the final month of the season?
This division is going to be bonkers. I would not be shocked if any of these four teams reached the postseason. But we know the odds of that actually happening are bleak. Are there some inherit advantages and disadvantages schedule-wise in the final weeks of the season? These teams in general have to travel more than others by the very nature of how spread out they are geographically. The margins are slim. Does one benefit more than others from a rest/travel standpoint as the fatigue and attrition mounts?
If the Raiders get shafted by the NFL tomorrow – because if you've ever spent 30 seconds around a Raiders fan you know the league office/Big Brother is always after them – can they create an Al Davis hologram to project profanities upon Roger Goodell from inside that VIP club next to the end zone? (Hint: If you do this, please ensure that Amy Trask crafts the script. We need authenticity here). I would totally pay to watch that. Also, Over/Under on how many more team presidents/CFOs/COOs the Raiders go through before the schedule is actually announced? Four?
What do the first six weeks look like for the 49ers? Early bye? When's the game against the Panthers?
Trey Lance simply has not played much football the last few years. And now a lot stands to be expected of him. How tough is the early gauntlet? When is the week off? This may be a Super Bowl team if the QB play is legit. Oh yeah, and if by chance Jimmy Garoppolo – the former 49ers starter – ends up in Carolina, that date with San Francisco is one worth circling. Jimmy G vs. Shanny 2.0. May the best stubble win.
Yeah, we have entered the REVENGE GAME portion of this exercise. Russell Wilson vs. the Seahawks. Words some thought would never be written. Is Seattle totally lost without him? Can The 12th Man survive this three-hour endeavor with Russ on the opposing sideline? Would Twitter/Instagram/Cool Social Media Stuff I Barely Know Exists explode if Ciara ran to the Seahawks logo at midfield after a Broncos victory, bust out some of her best moves and did a quick acapella version of "1,2 Step" until security intervenes? What if she did it with (former Seahawk for a minute) T.O.? Man knows a thing or two about dancing-on-a-logo choreography. Maybe he'll bust out a push-up or two? Man I can't wait for this season to start.
How about Ravens/Giants?
Why, do you ask, would I highlight this game after watching Baltimore massacre the NY Football Giants not that long ago? Well, for years the Ravens defense, run by coordinator Wink Martindale, faced the Ravens unique offense, run by Lamar Jackson and coordinator Greg Roman, every day at practice. The Ravens fired Wink after a disastrous 2021 season on defense. No one would have more insight about this offense from a defensive standpoint than him. Wink may not have all the horses he needs in Year One, but they improved in the draft. Will be fascinated to see how he approaches this game, whenever it is.
Because, remember, there will one or two jackasses who will take to TV between now and whenever this game is played to tell you that THE LEAGUE HAS FIGURED OUT LAMAR JACKSON, I PROMISE, I SWEAR, A MIDDLING ASSISTANT DBs COACH OF A REALLY CRAPPY TEAM WHISPERED IT TO ME AND AN AGENT SENT IT TO ME IN A GROUP TEXT. AGAIN. ONLY THIS TIME IT'S FOR REAL. Can Wink meet the challenge? The rating for this game alone among anonymous scouts should be record-setting.
Oh, and what about Eagles/Titans?
A.J. Brown revenge game. 'Nuff said. Do the Titans crumble without his immense physical presence and production? Is his addition putting Jalen Hurts on a path to get paid? Is Malik Willis already under center for the Titans? Brown's press conference after the trade made some headlines. If he blows up the box score it will generate much more.
When do we get to see A-Rod and Brady go head to head one last time, probably, maybe, possibly?
The Packers and Bucs have a bit of a history, going back to their Bay of Pigs days (yeah, if you don't know, google it.) More to the point, the road to the Super Bowl tends to go through Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers at some point In the NFC playoffs since Brady went to Tampa. Of course, back in January, we thought this was over. Then, notsofast.
Rodgers got around to putting down the binders full of medical research and pharmaceutical literature and vaccine trial data he was perusing hours a day (and heaven knows what else) and came off his cleanse and declared that He Shall Play Football Once More. And Probably Twice More, Per The Guarantees In That New Contract. And Brady retired for roughly 28 minutes and 3 seconds (sorry Falcons fans!) and then chopped it up with Ronaldo on the pitch at Old Trafford and declared the He Too Shall Play Football Once More (and maybe whispered that It Could Be Twice, Or Thrice, But Perhaps In A More Southern Region Of Florida, Wink-Wink).
(Unrelated note: Has Man U won a match since that grazing of the GOATS? Asking for a Leeds Fan. Come on Jesse Marsch, keep us in the Prem. Do it not for I, but for your country!)
So, yeah, the Packers will meet the Bucs this season. And the world shall watch. Because this could be it between these two. Really. Probably. I promise. Until they meet again in the playoffs. Or not.
When is The Battle of Los Angeles? And can they get 'Rage Against the Machine' to play at halftime?
The Rams and Chargers share a home. Okay, well, more to the point the Rams have an amazing football palace built by their owner that is sublet to certain tenants for various amounts of time. The tractor pull probably gets a full week. A Dr. Dre/Snoop Dog co-headlining date could probably fill that place for an entire weekend run. The Chargers get roughly 10 dates a year, spread apart by varying degrees, depending on the year and how many preseason and/or regular-season games the are allowed to host. The Rams quickly won a Super Bowl and are the big show in town (I am rooting for a "Winning Time"-type adaptation of their championship season to start streaming on their website soon, after that draft-day Matrix trailer thingy they produced. The casting has already been done for goodness sake).
L.A. went decades without having a single team and no one seemed to care all that much about that, let alone two NFL franchises sharing a stadium. Wouldn't it be something if this game was early in the year and even though the Chargers are the "home team" for NFL purposes, with it really being Kroenke's house and all, think big with me here for a second: What if the Rams got their rings and they raised the banner before this game? The Rams enjoy a good laugh and their social media/in house production/James Cameron Knockoff Team is legit. How about they take a full WWF heel turn, temporarily, and turn this game into a celebration of their 2021 Lombardi Trophy season, even if the Chargers logos are on the field that day?
Alas, a guy can dream.
The full 2022 NFL schedule will be released on Thursday, May 12, at 8 p.m. ET on NFL Network, NFL.com and the NFL app. NFL GameDay View: Schedule Release will stream that night at 8 p.m. ET on Paramount+, NFL.com, the NFL app, YouTube and the NFL Channel.