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Volume 24 No. 159
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Manning's Broncos Debut, Additional Thursday Contests Highlight NFL Primetime Schedule

The NFL released the '12 schedule last night, and the lineup will "immediately grab viewers ... with game matchups that should draw huge audiences," according to Michael McCarthy of USA TODAY. NBC Sports "looks like the early winner," as it will begin the season with Cowboys-Giants on Sept. 5 and QB Peyton Manning's first game with the Broncos against the Steelers on "SNF" Sept. 9. NBC in Week 2 gets a "grudge match," with the Lions at the 49ers. McCarthy: "Who can forget Lions coach Jim Schwartz going nuts and chasing 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh down the sideline after Harbaugh slapped him on the back following a game last year?" (USA TODAY, 4/18). USA TODAY's Nate Davis notes the schedule will "permeate prime-time TV more than ever before." By "expanding its presence on Thursday nights, the league will offer at least two weeknight games" during the first 15 weeks of the season. With the "exception of a Thanksgiving tripleheader" in Week 12, NFL Network will air 13 games between Weeks 2 and 15, "ensuring all 32 teams will appear in prime time" (USA TODAY, 4/18). The NFL caps the number of primetime games a team can appear in at five, but NFL Network’s Rich Eisen said, “Trust me, I’m sure they will bend that for either Peyton Manning or Tim Tebow this year in the offices of some of the television networks” (NFL Network, 4/17).

Cowboys-Giants (NFL Kickoff) Bengals-Ravens none
Steelers-Broncos Chargers-Raiders none
Lions-49ers Broncos-Falcons Bears-Packers
Patriots-Ravens Packers-Seahawks Giants-Panthers
Giants-Eagles Bears-Cowboys Browns-Ravens
Chargers-Saints Texans-Jets Cardinals-Rams
Vikings-Redskins Broncos-Chargers Steelers-Titans
Steelers-Bengals Lions-Bears Seahawks-49ers
Saints-Broncos 49ers-Cardinals Buccaneers-Vikings
Cowboys-Falcons Eagles-Saints Chiefs-Chargers
Texans-Bears Chiefs-Steelers Colts-Jaguars
Ravens-Steelers* Bears-49ers Dolphins-Bills
Packers-Giants* Panthers-Eagles none
Eagles-Cowboys* Giants-Redskins Saints-Falcons
Lions-Packers* Texans-Patriots Broncos-Raiders
49ers-Patriots* Jets-Titans Bengals-Eagles
Chargers-Jets* Falcons-Lions none
TBD none none

NOTES: CBS will air Texans-Lions in the early Thanksgiving window, while Fox will air Redskins-Cowboys in the late window. NBC wil air Patriots-Jets in primetime on Thanksgiving. * = Subject to flex scheduling.

PEYTON'S NEW PLACE: The Broncos will appeal in the maximum five primetime games this season, including the season-opener against the Steelers and a Week Two "MNF" appearance against the Falcons. ESPN's Mike Golic said, "Make no mistake about it, they got the five primetime games because of Peyton Manning and what he’s able to do" ("Mike & Mike in the Morning," ESPN Radio, 4/18). NFL Network's Rich Eisen said it is not surprising that the Broncos are “under the lights the first two weeks for the entire country to feast their eyes on what Peyton Manning looks like in orange” (NFL Network, 4/17). ESPN's Mike Tirico said of Manning's return to the field after missing the '11 season due to injury, “That’s what everyone wants to see. One: How is he? Two: How is the fit and what’s he going to be right out of the gate, because there’s no time to waste?” (ESPN, 4/17). This will be the first time the Broncos have "opened the season with consecutive prime-time games" (L.A. TIMES, 4/18). In Pittsburgh, Scott Brown notes there had been "speculation that the NFL would have the Steelers open the season in Denver and in one of the marquee TV spots." The Broncos "upset the Steelers" in the Wild Card round of the playoffs last season (PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 4/18). YAHOO SPORTS' Chris Chase noted Week 5 "is the doozy: Peyton vs. Tom Brady" at 4:15pm ET on CBS. Chase: "How hard do you think CBS fought to keep that one off of primetime?" (, 4/17).

SELLING CONTROVERSY? In New Orleans, Mike Triplett writes even though the NFL "hammered the Saints with the most severe sanctions in league history after its bounty investigation, the NFL knows the team is still must-see TV, maybe even more now than ever." The Saints will make four primetime appearances and is scheduled for three 3:15pm starts in three "high-profile NFC showdowns" -- at the Packers in Week 4, home against the 49ers in Week 12 and at the Giants in Week 14 (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 4/18). YAHOO SPORTS' Chase wrote, "If you were wondering whether the NFL would subtly punish the team through its television schedule, wonder no more." The Saints are "in line to play at least seven nationally-televised games." Chase: "Controversy sells" (, 4/17).

TIME TO SHINE: In Detroit, Allen Park notes the Lions will play five nationally televised games next season, though they will "not host a Monday night game." It is the first time since '98 that they have "been on the big stage" five times. Lions WR Nate Burleson said, "It's a sign of respect and it shows the direction we are heading." He added, "For us to have games on the national-wide scale is an honor and shows the players are doing the right things and the people in the front office are piecing together something special." The Lions made the playoffs last year for the first time since '99 (DETROIT NEWS, 4/18). ESPN's Tirico said, “Here’s a Lions team that couldn’t sniff ‘Monday Night Football’ a few years ago" (ESPN, 4/17). Meanwhile, in Houston, John McClain notes the Texans are "hot property on network television" after winning their first AFC South division championship. The team will play four primetime games, including two "SNF" games. This is the first time "in team history they've played a prime-time game on NBC." Texans coach Gary Kubiak said, "We get some opportunities to play in some big prime-time games. That's a credit to the team, the players and the job they did." McClain notes the Texans also will play in the annual Thanksgiving Day game at Detroit (, 4/17).

Cam Newton helps Panthers land a pair of
primetime appearances

MORE TEAMS ON THE RISE: In Cincinnati, Joe Reedy notes after a "surprise 9-7 season and a playoff appearance where they didn't make a prime time appearance, the Bengals were rewarded with one of the marquee games of Kickoff Weekend," a "MNF" game against the Ravens. The team's other primetime games include an Oct. 21 "SNF" meeting with the Steelers and a Dec. 13 game at the Eagles on NFL Network. This is the team's most primetime appearances since it had four in '07 (CINCINNATI ENQUIRER, 4/18). Behind QB Cam Newton, the Panthers "landed a pair of prime-time matchups against NFC East opponents." The team will play the Giants on Sept. 20 on NFL Network and will go to the Eagles for a "MNF" game on Nov. 26. That will be the Panthers' first Monday night appearance "since a Week 3 loss at Dallas" in '09 (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 4/18). The Titans will "return to national television twice this year at LP Field after being passed over for prime-time games" in '11. Titans coach Mike Munchak: "What stands out to me are the two home prime-time games. We didn't have any last year and those are fun for our fans and an opportunity to showcase the team" (Nashville TENNESSEAN, 4/18).

THE OLD STANDBYS: Two of the Packers' first three games will be in primetime, and the club's five scheduled primetime games "would be the most ... in Packers history." The team's draw "isn’t a surprise considering the Packers are coming off a 15-1 regular season" (, 4/17). In N.Y., Ralph Vacchiano notes the Giants also have five primetime games, "including the previously announced opener at home" against the Cowboys. The Giants will play three of their first four games in primetime (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 4/18). In Ft. Worth, Charean Williams wrote despite going 6-10 and 8-8 the past two seasons, the Cowboys "are one of eight teams with five primetime games." The team has played in six of the nine "most-watched games on NBC since the network took over Sunday Night Football" in '06 (, 4/17). The Eagles host the Giants for a Sunday night game on Sept. 30, the first of the team's five primetime games. The Eagles apparently are "still quite the draw" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 4/18). The Bears also have five primetime games, up from four last year. The team is 1-6 in its last seven "appearances on Sunday night" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 4/18). The Patriots are "currently scheduled to play" four primetime games, but they will "largely return to the traditional" 1:00pm game slot. After playing "just five at that time last year, the Patriots currently have nine" 1:00pm kickoffs in '12 (BOSTON GLOBE, 4/18). The Jets' four primetime games are "highlighted by the meeting with the rival Patriots on Thanksgiving night." Jets coach Rex Ryan: "That one's going to be a beauty, there's no doubt. It's a late-night one. Our fans will be ready to roll" (N.Y. POST, 4/18). The league showed the Falcons a "great deal of respect with four national appearances" (, 4/17).

KNOCKED DOWN THE PECKING ORDER: In Indianapolis, Mike Chappell notes the Colts have just one primetime game and 15 with 1:00pm kickoffs. After being "featured in at least four prime-time games in every season" since '04, the Colts' "only night game this season is Nov. 8" against the Jaguars in Jacksonville. Chappell writes the "likelihood of the Colts enduring a difficult season undoubtedly played a role in them receiving only one prime-time game." It is a "dramatic change," as they were "prime-time players at least five times in each of the past five seasons" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 4/18). In Miami, David Neal notes the Dolphins' Nov. 15 game against the Bills on NFL Network is the team's "only scheduled prime-time game." Only four "previous times since the 1970 merger -- 1970 (1), 2005 (1), 2007 (1) and 2008 (0) -- have the Dolphins been in prime time as few as once" (MIAMI HERALD, 4/18). In Jacksonville, Tania Ganguli notes after having two "MNF" games and three primetime appearance total in '11, the Jaguars "were bumped from the Monday night schedule altogether." The team's only primetime appearance "will be at home against the Colts on a Thursday night game" (FLORIDA TIMES-UNION, 4/18). In St. Paul, Jeremy Fowler writes with "no 'Monday Night Football' appearance and one prime-time game," the Vikings "won't be driving the television ratings for the NFL" (ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS, 4/18).

CAN'T GET ENOUGH OF YOUR LOVE: NFL Network and ESPN both aired three-hour specials on the schedule release last night, and ESPN's Trey Wingo said, "It’s a testament to just how dominant the NFL is as a sporting entity in this country where we now spend three hours dissecting the schedule." Wingo: "Everybody knows who they’re playing already, it’s just a matter of when they’re going to play on the calendar. That is the power of the National Football League right now in this country” (ESPN, 4/17). CNBC's Darren Rovell wrote on his Twitter feed, "If someone said 10 years ago that there would be a 3-hour show on the unveiling of the NFL schedule, I would have told them they were crazy." The N.Y. Daily News' Mark Feinsand wrote, "Really? This is now an event? I love the NFL, but come on."