SBJ/Jan. 17-23, 2011/Media

Nets vie for top matchups on next year's sked

The NFL playoffs had barely started this month, and already the NFL’s television partners were jockeying to pick up the best matchups from next year’s schedule.

With the AFC East slated to play the NFC East, several high-profile games are scheduled for next season, and the networks want to make sure they get their fair share.

“You have to start looking at games that you want to fall on the sword for and make sure those games stay in your package and don’t get given away,” said Eric Shanks, president of Fox Sports. “There are some pretty unbelievable games — on paper — going into next season.”

Potential Fox matchups include the Cowboys at the Patriots, the Giants at the Jets and the 49ers at the Ravens, pitting the two Harbaugh brothers (Jim and John) against each other as coaches.

Other marquee games the networks will look to secure — in addition to division games — include the Colts at the Patriots, the Patriots at the Steelers and the Bears at the Eagles.

“We had our first internal meeting last week,” said John Wildhack, ESPN’s executive vice president of programming and acquisitions. “We haven’t come to any specific conclusions yet.”

The NFL’s main schedule maker, Howard Katz, said it generally takes up to eight weeks to come up with a schedule, with computers spitting out literally tens of thousands of possibilities.

“We’re just beginning the process for next year’s schedule,” Katz said.

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