The NFL has turned everything into a television program. And who can blame them? The NFL Draft now does better ratings than almost every other sporting contest AND the damn Academy Awards. (How in the hell did that happen?)
The schedule release does not have the same ratings appeal for two reasons: (1) every local beat leaks the schedule as the day goes on and (2) we consume the schedule in one shot, in about 30 seconds, and then sort of move on.
Three things I’ll be watching with the release tonight at 8 PM ET.
Number One. Where is the Bears bye?
With a seventeen-game schedule, most teams will be hoping their bye lands as close to the middle of the season as possible. A Week 4 or Week 5 bye leaves a long stretch of uninterrupted football (barring wildcard weekend off) in order to get to the Super Bowl.
But for the Chicago Bears the bye is entirely about one thing: Justin Fields. If the Bears stick with their current plan, and give Andy Dalton the opener, the bye will be every fan’s target to get Fields on the field. A few questions should be asked.
- What’s the difficulty level of the schedule pre-bye? If the Bears face a murderer’s row of teams and are likely to be going into the bye with a losing record, the transition to Fields will be far easier to execute.
- Who is the opponent post-bye? If I was making the NFL schedule, I would have the Bears at home to the Lions after their bye. Soft team, terrible defense, crazy atmosphere on the lakefront. (I know right now you’re thinking, “That’s brilliant! He SHOULD make the schedule!” You are right.)
Number Two. What does the league do with the Packers?
The Packers are a solid television draw, with or without Aaron Rodgers. But one has to assume the league is not going to load up their primetime schedule with Green Bay games and HOPE the team still has a star attraction at quarterback, right? The folks in Manhattan would have to have a solid handle on the Rodgers situation before they saddle their television partners with less-than-desirable matchups.
Number Three. Travel?
It certainly feels like Americans will be eager to travel, especially in-country, come this fall. But even with nine road games, the destinations for the Bears are not great.
Detroit, Minnesota, Green Bay, Pittsburgh and Cleveland are all midwestern, cold weather destinations that don’t offer much to folks from the greatest city in the country.
If you love strip clubs, Tampa is great.
If you hate authenticity, Los Angeles is fun.
If you’re allergic to the sun and think catching a large fish is an example of a great time, Seattle might be the place for you.
What does that leave?
Vegas. Not my thing but I would expect all Raiders games to feel like road games for Vegas. Opposing fans are going to flood the town nine times.
And I would expect that flights from Chicago to Vegas that weekend are going to get very expensive, very fast.