The NFL released the 2018 regular season schedule, and for the 40th straight year, everyone landed on an even 16 games. Amazing!
Some were likely happy with the way the schedule set up, while others perhaps fired off a fist-shaking email to Roger Goodell demanding an explanation. Truth be told, we won’t truly know who should be overjoyed or underwhelmed about all this until the vagaries of the draft, training camp and the regular season itself begin to shake out, but it’s fun to speculate it about it in April, when the season is literally young. So here are a few winners and losers from the 2018 NFL schedule, both on and off the field.
The network is taking over broadcasting duties for a majority of the NFL’s Thursday night slate from CBS and NBC, and it looks to have done pretty well with the schedule. Its first game is Vikings at Rams on Sept. 27, a matchup of two division champions from 2017, and then Fox gets the always watchable Patriots hosting the Colts (finally featuring Andrew Luck again?) the next week. In November, each of the four Fox Thursday night games would seem to look good from a preseason distance of seven months: Raiders-49ers, Panthers-Steelers, Packers-Seahawks and Saints-Cowboys.
According to Sports Business Daily’s John Ourand, Fox offered to move some of these better matchups from its 4:25 p.m. Sunday slot to give the Thursday night slate — a subject of much derision in recent years — a boost.
“We had two goals with our schedule — improve the quality of ‘Thursday Night Football,’ and maintain the strength of the [Sunday] 4:25 games,” Fox Sports President Eric Shanks told Ourand. “The NFL worked hard to make that happen.”
Bristol’s relationship with the NFL has been a bit prickly in recent years. The network is paying $1.9 billion a year for the “Monday Night Football” package plus a lone playoff game during a time of economic uncertainty, and the slate in recent years has been less than optimal. But this year, at least on paper, the schedule seems pretty good, starting with the late-night Week 1 game featuring former “MNF” color commentator Jon Gruden in his second debut as Raiders coach (against the should-be-good Rams, no less). According to the Athletic’s Richard Deitsch, ESPN executive vice president of programming and scheduling Burke Magnus lobbied hard for that one and got his wish.
Of the 17 Monday night games, all but two feature at least one team with a Vegas over/under win total of at least 8.5 games. Four of the games (Niners-Packers, Chiefs-Rams, Vikings-Seahawks and Saints-Panthers) feature teams that both have win totals of at least nine games.
New England somehow stumbled upon the league’s easiest schedule, according to Neil Greenberg, the Post’s numbers guy. He bases this not on last season’s records but Vegas’s projected win totals and the Super Bowl odds. Only two of the Patriots’ opponents — the Steelers and Packers — are estimated to win at least 10 games.
Anyone who has a three-game road trip, but especially the Saints.
The NFL tried, it really did. Last year, eight teams were given the dreaded three-game road trip and they went a combined 9-15 in those games. Take out the Vikings, Eagles and Patriots, three teams that reached conference championship games, and they went 3-12. This year, the number of teams with three-game road trips has been reduced to three: the Saints, Rams and Ravens. New Orleans may have it the toughest, as its three-game road stretch comes in Weeks 13-15, well after its Week 6 bye. Plus, the Saints get a fairly rough stretch of travel even before the three straight away dates: Immediately following their week off, they play three road games in four weeks.
The Rams’ three-game roadie comes in Weeks 5-7, and they get a late bye in Week 12. Likewise, the Ravens’ three-week stretch of road games (Weeks 4-6) comes before their bye (Week 10).
Detroit must have been feeling pretty good after drawing the Jets as its Week 1 opponent, but the Lions will have played the Patriots and Packers by Week 5 and then get six other teams with an over/under win total of at least nine games. Greenberg has dubbed their schedule the NFL’s hardest.
The Raiders and their sleepy fans
Oakland must travel three times to the eastern United States to play games that will start at 10 a.m. local time and also has to go to London to play the Seahawks. The Raiders also get at 10 a.m. kickoff against the Chiefs in Kansas City, though they have to play that division game every year.
The Rams, for comparison’s sake, only have two 10 a.m. kickoffs, and both are in the Central time zone. The 49ers also have two, with one of them against an Eastern team.
The Post’s Redskins scribes
For the third year in a row, Washington will be playing on Thanksgiving, and two of those games have been on the road. We cannot possibly comprehend what our wonderful colleagues Liz Clarke, Kimberley A. Martin and Kareem Copeland have done to anger the NFL scheduling gods, but I’m sure they are very sorry about it. Consider this a request for Thanksgiving mercy in 2019.
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