NFL releases 2011 schedule despite lockout
By Mark Maske,
The NFL’s regular season would begin Sept. 8 in Green Bay with a matchup of the last two Super Bowl champions — if the league reopens for business in time.
The league announced its 2011 schedule Tuesday, an unveiling that included broadcasts on the league-owned NFL Network and ESPN2, more than a month into a shutdown that could put the season — or at least portions of it — in jeopardy.
“We’re doing all we can to prepare for the 2011 season,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told the league’s television channel. “We’re announcing the schedule as usual around this time of year because we know that it is an important point where fans start looking forward to the season, and I think there’s every reason for them to do that. We have every intention of playing the full schedule and that’s why we’re releasing it as we normally do.”
The announcement of next season’s slate of 256 games came on a day when representatives of the league and its locked-out players met with a judge in Minneapolis to resume their mediated talks after a three-day break. A federal judge is poised to rule on the players’ request for an injunction that would end the lockout put in place by the franchise owners March 12, one day after the previous round of talks between the two sides collapsed.
If there is a season that begins on time, it would start at Lambeau Field with the defending Super Bowl champion hosting the now-traditional Thursday night opener. The Green Bay Packers would face the New Orleans Saints, who won the Super Bowl following the 2009 season.
The first Sunday of the regular season would include games in the Washington and New York areas on the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The Washington Redskins are scheduled to host the New York Giants at FedEx Field that afternoon, and the New York Jets are to host the Dallas Cowboys at the New Meadowlands Stadium in the first Sunday night game of the season.
There is a doubleheader scheduled for Sept. 12, the first Monday night games of the season. The Miami Dolphins are to host the New England Patriots and the Denver Broncos are to host the Oakland Raiders.
The NFL’s first matchup of brothers as opposing head coaches is to come on Thanksgiving in Baltimore when the Ravens host the San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers hired Jim Harbaugh, the brother of Ravens Coach John Harbaugh, as their coach this offseason. They are believed to be the first set of brothers to be NFL head coaches. Both brothers have said they expect their close relationship to be mostly unaffected by their now-conflicting job descriptions, but the game could be difficult for their family. Their father, Jack, is a former football coach but said in an offseason interview that he and his wife don’t plan to attend that game.
The 49ers-Ravens game is to be played at 8:20 p.m. on Nov. 24. The other Thanksgiving games have the Detroit Lions hosting the Packers and the Cowboys hosting the Dolphins.
With Christmas falling on a Sunday, there is only one game scheduled for Dec. 25 — Bears at Packers at 8:20 p.m. Eastern time. There are 13 games scheduled for Dec. 24, a Saturday, with none starting after 4:15 p.m. EST.
For a second straight season, all Week 17 games on the schedule are matchups of teams in the same division.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are to play the Chicago Bears on Oct. 23 in London as the NFL continues its attempt to increase its global appeal. The scheduling of that game was announced Monday by the league, which added the disclaimer that the game would be rescheduled to be played in Tampa if the sport’s labor situation is not resolved by Aug. 1.
That resolution potentially could come in the next few days. U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson told attorneys for the league and the players at the end of an April 6 hearing in St. Paul, Minn., that she would need a couple of weeks to rule on the players’ request for a preliminary injunction to end the lockout.
If Nelson grants the players’ request and the league is unable to get a stay of the injunction pending an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, the NFL would go back into operation at least temporarily. If that happens, the upcoming season potentially would be played — probably under last season’s rules, which did not include a salary cap — while the players’ antitrust litigation against the owners would continue to play out in court.
Representatives of the league and the players’ side met Tuesday at a federal courthouse in Minneapolis with Chief Magistrate Judge Arthur J. Boylan, the mediator appointed last week by Nelson when she ordered the parties to resume talks. Boylan had given the participants in the talks three days off after two days of joint negotiations last week. The talks resumed Tuesday without DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the dissolved players’ union. Smith did not participate because of a family medical emergency, according to a spokesman for the players’ side. The talks are scheduled to continue Wednesday.