10-Pack: The Ravens and fans get NFL schedule gifts

ProFootballTalk.com’s Mike Florio weighs in on the 2010 NFL schedule:

1. So much for secrecy. For weeks, the NFL kept a tight lid on the 256-game slate, releasing only scant details, such as the fact that the Jets would host both a Monday night game in Week 1 and the third game on the Thanksgiving slate.

Apparently, the commissioner’s decision to go rogue during an NFL.com live chat on Tuesday afternoon opened the floodgates. Over the next few hours after he announced that the season would begin on September 9 with the Saints hosting the Vikings, the entire schedules of the Steelers, Saints, Giants, and Lions were leaked.

The league can’t be happy about the development. Though schedule leads are not uncommon, the league seemed to be intent on holding back as much as possible until the official announcement of the schedule.

So how does it get out? In the afternoon, the league office begins to tell the teams their individual schedules. If the league ever wants to achieve full secrecy, the better approach could be to tell no one.

The Steelers could have early trouble if Ben Roethlisberger doesn't play.
The Steelers could have early trouble if Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t play.

2. Steelers could face a tough start without Big Ben. Assuming that Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger receives a four-game suspension (UPDATE: Roethlisberger will receive a six-game suspension that can be reduced to four), the schedule-maker didn’t do the Rooneys any favors.

The Steelers open at home against the Falcons, who didn’t make the playoffs but who have finished above .500 for consecutive years for the first time in team history, before heading to Tennessee and Tampa. Then, the first quarter of the season ends with a visit from the Ravens. It could lead to a 2-2 or 1-3 start.

That said, the Steelers’ schedule doesn’t have a ton of gimme games. Sure, they play the Browns twice, but they lost to them once in 2009. The woeful Raiders come to town, a year after the woeful Raiders won there.

Meanwhile, the Steelers play five prime-time games, but none before Week 8. Surely, the schedule was tweaked a bit in light of the looming suspension of Roethlisberger.

3. Favre hears the siren song of the schedule maker. As Vikings quarterback Brett Favre tries to decide whether to return for a second year in Minnesota and a 20th overall, he now knows that he’d get an immediate shot at redemption for one of the most deflating games of his career.

Vikings at Saints. September 9. Prime time.

Four weeks later, Favre would get a chance to return to his one-year home, New York, for a game against the Jets.

Throw in two games against the Packers, a game against the Cowboys, a rematch with the Cardinals (who drubbed the Vikings in 2009), a trip to face the Patriots, and games against the Giants, Eagles, and Redskins, and 2010 presents plenty of intriguing challenges for Favre.

Indeed, there are almost enough challenges to persuade him to stay in Mississippi.

4. Ravens benefit from Steelers’ troubles. When the Steelers traded receiver Santonio Holmes to the Jets, the Ravens were thrilled. No longer would they have to be torched two (and maybe three) times a year by Holmes.

The Ravens dodged another bullet by getting the Jets in Week 1, when Holmes will be suspended.

And if Roethlisberger gets at least a four-game suspension, the Ravens will go to Pittsburgh on a day in early October when Ben isn’t there.

5. Christmas in the desert. In past years, the NFL tried to avoid playing games on Christmas. Now, they embrace it.

Though the league has yet to schedule a full slate for Dec. 25, the NFL no longer avoids it.

This year, the Cowboys will travel to Arizona for a Christmas night get-together on NFL Network.

Cue the language not suitable for Christmas from Dallas fans throughout the country who don’t have access to the league-owned network.

6. Another reason to be thankful. Over the past few years, the league has taken full advantage of the reality that football fans will pretty much watch whatever games we get on Thanksgiving.

This year, the captive audience has a reason to stay awake.

Though broadcasting rotation guaranteed that the Lions would host the Jets or the Patriots to start the day, conventional wisdom indicated that the second game would feature the Cowboys hosting the Bears.

Conventional wisdom was never so glad to be wrong.

The league instead has diverted what otherwise would have been an excellent Sunday night or Monday night game to the fourth Thursday in November.

The evening ends with the Jets hosting the Bengals, not a great game but good enough to give us all a reason to spend the evening hours in the household of a family member with NFL Network.

7. Sunday night schedule looks rock solid. When NBC re-entered the NFL broadcasting derby for the 2006 season, it emerged with the coveted ability to flex late-season games into prime-time. This year, the slate of games is so good that NBC likely won’t want to move many of them.

The only contest that looks to be destined to be bumped out of the evening slot comes on Dec. 26, when the Bengals meet the Chargers.

Then again, that game would be worth televising, if only to see San Diego linebacker Shawne Merriman physically dismantle Cincinnati receiver Chad Ochocinco.

8. More equity needed for short weeks. This year, every team that plays on a Thursday plays four days beforehand, on a Sunday. And for the short weeks, every road team plays on the prior Sunday at home, requiring only one road trip for the road teams from the end of the Sunday game until the start of the Thursday game.

But with both teams in Thursday games getting only three days to prepare, fairness suggest that each of the teams — road and home — should see their preparation time diminished by travel time.

For the nine Thursday games in 2010, seven of the teams that host the games play at home on the preceding Sunday. It means that these seven teams will have to engage in no travel, maximizing the amount of time they’ll have to get ready to play on Thursday.

The better approach would be to have the Thursday home teams play the prior Sunday on the road and the Thursday road teams play the prior Sunday at home, imposing on every short-week team an obligation to pack up the franchise and move from one place to another.

9. League loves Niners, not the Raiders. To no surprise, the Oakland Raiders will play no prime-time games in 2010. Their neighbors on the other side of the Bay, however, will enjoy four contests under the Klieg lights — two on ESPN, one on NBC, and one on NFL Network.

It appears, then, that the powers-that-be believe the Niners will make a serious run at taking over the top of the NFC West, given the retirement of Kurt Warner.

Given the current state of the Seahawks and the St. Louis Rams, it’s hard to argue with the logic.

And given the perpetual funk that inhabits the Raiders, it makes sense to keep them off of the biggest stage.

10. ESPN still not getting its money’s worth. The folks in Bristol pay more than $1 billion per year to televise 17 prime-time games. And they continue to get something less than a billion-dollar slate of games.

That said, some of the games will be good ones. Ravens-Jets, Pats-Dolphins, Vikings-Jets, Giants-Cowboys, Eagles-Redskins, and Jets-Patriots could be excellent. Saints-Falcons could be a classic in Week 16, unless one of the two teams has run away with the NFC South crown.

But there’s little genuine sizzle. Though division games (ESPN has 13 in all) can generate high interest among the fan bases of the two teams involved, a schedule befitting the price tag would feature more eyebrow-raisers like Ravens-Jets and Vikings-Jets.

Then again, with four games featuring the mammoth New York market, ESPN will do a nice job of making back much of its billion bucks.

Mike Florio writes and edits ProFootballTalk.com and is a regular contributor to Sporting News. Check out PFT for up-to-the minute NFL news.

ProFootballTalk.com’s Mike Florio weighs in on the 2010 NFL schedule:

1. So much for secrecy. For weeks, the NFL kept a tight lid on the 256-game slate, releasing only scant details, such as the fact that the Jets would host both a Monday night game in Week 1 and the third game on the Thanksgiving slate.

Apparently, the commissioner’s decision to go rogue during an NFL.com live chat on Tuesday afternoon opened the floodgates. Over the next few hours after he announced that the season would begin on September 9 with the Saints hosting the Vikings, the entire schedules of the Steelers, Saints, Giants, and Lions were leaked.

The league can’t be happy about the development. Though schedule leads are not uncommon, the league seemed to be intent on holding back as much as possible until the official announcement of the schedule.

So how does it get out? In the afternoon, the league office begins to tell the teams their individual schedules. If the league ever wants to achieve full secrecy, the better approach could be to tell no one.

The Steelers could have early trouble if Ben Roethlisberger doesn't play.
The Steelers could have early trouble if Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t play.

2. Steelers could face a tough start without Big Ben. Assuming that Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger receives a four-game suspension (UPDATE: Roethlisberger will receive a six-game suspension that can be reduced to four), the schedule-maker didn’t do the Rooneys any favors.

The Steelers open at home against the Falcons, who didn’t make the playoffs but who have finished above .500 for consecutive years for the first time in team history, before heading to Tennessee and Tampa. Then, the first quarter of the season ends with a visit from the Ravens. It could lead to a 2-2 or 1-3 start.

That said, the Steelers’ schedule doesn’t have a ton of gimme games. Sure, they play the Browns twice, but they lost to them once in 2009. The woeful Raiders come to town, a year after the woeful Raiders won there.

Meanwhile, the Steelers play five prime-time games, but none before Week 8. Surely, the schedule was tweaked a bit in light of the looming suspension of Roethlisberger.

3. Favre hears the siren song of the schedule maker. As Vikings quarterback Brett Favre tries to decide whether to return for a second year in Minnesota and a 20th overall, he now knows that he’d get an immediate shot at redemption for one of the most deflating games of his career.

Vikings at Saints. September 9. Prime time.

Four weeks later, Favre would get a chance to return to his one-year home, New York, for a game against the Jets.

Throw in two games against the Packers, a game against the Cowboys, a rematch with the Cardinals (who drubbed the Vikings in 2009), a trip to face the Patriots, and games against the Giants, Eagles, and Redskins, and 2010 presents plenty of intriguing challenges for Favre.

Indeed, there are almost enough challenges to persuade him to stay in Mississippi.

4. Ravens benefit from Steelers’ troubles. When the Steelers traded receiver Santonio Holmes to the Jets, the Ravens were thrilled. No longer would they have to be torched two (and maybe three) times a year by Holmes.

The Ravens dodged another bullet by getting the Jets in Week 1, when Holmes will be suspended.

And if Roethlisberger gets at least a four-game suspension, the Ravens will go to Pittsburgh on a day in early October when Ben isn’t there.

5. Christmas in the desert. In past years, the NFL tried to avoid playing games on Christmas. Now, they embrace it.

Though the league has yet to schedule a full slate for Dec. 25, the NFL no longer avoids it.

This year, the Cowboys will travel to Arizona for a Christmas night get-together on NFL Network.

Cue the language not suitable for Christmas from Dallas fans throughout the country who don’t have access to the league-owned network.

6. Another reason to be thankful. Over the past few years, the league has taken full advantage of the reality that football fans will pretty much watch whatever games we get on Thanksgiving.

This year, the captive audience has a reason to stay awake.

Though broadcasting rotation guaranteed that the Lions would host the Jets or the Patriots to start the day, conventional wisdom indicated that the second game would feature the Cowboys hosting the Bears.

Conventional wisdom was never so glad to be wrong.

The league instead has diverted what otherwise would have been an excellent Sunday night or Monday night game to the fourth Thursday in November.

The evening ends with the Jets hosting the Bengals, not a great game but good enough to give us all a reason to spend the evening hours in the household of a family member with NFL Network.

7. Sunday night schedule looks rock solid. When NBC re-entered the NFL broadcasting derby for the 2006 season, it emerged with the coveted ability to flex late-season games into prime-time. This year, the slate of games is so good that NBC likely won’t want to move many of them.

The only contest that looks to be destined to be bumped out of the evening slot comes on Dec. 26, when the Bengals meet the Chargers.

Then again, that game would be worth televising, if only to see San Diego linebacker Shawne Merriman physically dismantle Cincinnati receiver Chad Ochocinco.

8. More equity needed for short weeks. This year, every team that plays on a Thursday plays four days beforehand, on a Sunday. And for the short weeks, every road team plays on the prior Sunday at home, requiring only one road trip for the road teams from the end of the Sunday game until the start of the Thursday game.

But with both teams in Thursday games getting only three days to prepare, fairness suggest that each of the teams — road and home — should see their preparation time diminished by travel time.

For the nine Thursday games in 2010, seven of the teams that host the games play at home on the preceding Sunday. It means that these seven teams will have to engage in no travel, maximizing the amount of time they’ll have to get ready to play on Thursday.

The better approach would be to have the Thursday home teams play the prior Sunday on the road and the Thursday road teams play the prior Sunday at home, imposing on every short-week team an obligation to pack up the franchise and move from one place to another.

9. League loves Niners, not the Raiders. To no surprise, the Oakland Raiders will play no prime-time games in 2010. Their neighbors on the other side of the Bay, however, will enjoy four contests under the Klieg lights — two on ESPN, one on NBC, and one on NFL Network.

It appears, then, that the powers-that-be believe the Niners will make a serious run at taking over the top of the NFC West, given the retirement of Kurt Warner.

Given the current state of the Seahawks and the St. Louis Rams, it’s hard to argue with the logic.

And given the perpetual funk that inhabits the Raiders, it makes sense to keep them off of the biggest stage.

10. ESPN still not getting its money’s worth. The folks in Bristol pay more than $1 billion per year to televise 17 prime-time games. And they continue to get something less than a billion-dollar slate of games.

That said, some of the games will be good ones. Ravens-Jets, Pats-Dolphins, Vikings-Jets, Giants-Cowboys, Eagles-Redskins, and Jets-Patriots could be excellent. Saints-Falcons could be a classic in Week 16, unless one of the two teams has run away with the NFC South crown.

But there’s little genuine sizzle. Though division games (ESPN has 13 in all) can generate high interest among the fan bases of the two teams involved, a schedule befitting the price tag would feature more eyebrow-raisers like Ravens-Jets and Vikings-Jets.

Then again, with four games featuring the mammoth New York market, ESPN will do a nice job of making back much of its billion bucks.

Mike Florio writes and edits ProFootballTalk.com and is a regular contributor to Sporting News. Check out PFT for up-to-the minute NFL news.

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