Inside The Schedule: 49ers Deemed Ready For Primetime In '18
The 49ers were rewarded for their hot finish last season with five primetime games in '18, a "stunning number" for a team coming off a 6-10 season, according to Eric Branch of the S.F. CHRONICLE. The NFL released its '18 schedule Thursday night, and giving the 49ers the league-max five primetime starts is a sign that the team "returned to relevance" with their 5-0 finish last year behind QB Jimmy Garoppolo. The 49ers have not had five primetime games since '14, when they were "coming off a 12-4 season that included an appearance in the NFC Championship Game." They have played three primetime games in the "previous two seasons combined" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 4/20). ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert wrote it is "clear that the league is all-in on Jimmy G mania emanating from the Bay Area" (ESPN.com, 4/19). The 49ers are one of 10 teams that "drew five prime-time kickoffs" for the upcoming season (San Jose MERCURY NEWS, 4/20). Meanwhile, in S.F., Matt Kawahara notes Raiders-49ers on Nov. 1 is "one of four prime-time games scheduled for the Raiders." New coach Jon Gruden's "return to the sideline also will be nationally televised," as the Raiders open the season at home Sept. 10 on "MNF" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 4/20).
CREAM OF THE CROP: In St. Louis, Dan Caesar noted the Rams' five primetime games mark the "most in franchise history." The team had four in '02 during their "'Greatest Show on Turf" days (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 4/20). The Rams will "get their turn in the spotlight this season with some high-profile games" following their first playoff appearance in 13 years. That includes "hosting the first Thursday night game in the new Fox package" (L.A. TIMES, 4/20). The Rams are an "exciting team, one presumed to be on the rise," and the league "took notice and made the Rams one of its featured teams for the upcoming season" (ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, 4/20). In Boston, Nora Princiotti notes America is "going to get its fair share of Patriots games" from Weeks 3-9, as the team "plays all five of its prime-time games in that seven-week stretch" (BOSTON GLOBE, 4/20). In New Orleans, Larry Holder notes the Saints have "officially returned to the realm of the NFL's elite" as they are "scheduled for five prime-time games" (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 4/20). The Seahawks also "got the maximum five prime-time games" despite missing the playoffs last season for the first time since '11. There had been some "speculation that maybe the bright lights would avoid Seattle a little bit this season with the Seahawks dipping to a 9-7 record" in '17 and in the "midst of an offseason in which the team has shed some of its biggest names" (SEATTLE TIMES, 4/20).
STILL GETTING NO LOVE: In Jacksonville, Phillip Heilman notes the Jaguars "received two games in prime time" following last year's 10-6 season and the team's first AFC South title. The Jaguars have two primetime games "in the same season for the first time in seven years" after having none in '17 (FLORIDA TIMES-UNION, 4/20). However, PRO FOOTBALL TALK's Mike Florio noted only one is "guaranteed," as the second game could get flexed. Even still, the Jaguars got the "short end of the scheduling straw," as the other conference finalists each have a minimum of four primetime games. Whether the NFL "believes the market is too small, the team isn't sexy enough, and/or the following hasn't grown to the kind of size that will bring major eyeballs to the TV, the schedule doesn't reflect what the Jaguars did last year, or what they could do this year" (PROFOOTBALLTALK.com, 4/19). Meanwhile, the Bills only have one primetime game despite ending their 17-year playoff drought. In Buffalo,Jerry Sullivan notes the Bills have "lost their last 11 games on Sunday or Monday night," so it is "not as if they've been must-see TV." Ending the postseason drought "gave them some credibility, but they might have the worse offense in the league right now" (BUFFALO NEWS, 4/20). In Rochester, Sal Maiorana writes, "So much for the Bills being granted a little more respect from the NFL's broadcast partners in relation to prime-time games this year" (ROCHESTER DEMOCRAT & CHRONICLE, 4/20).
NO FUN IN THE SUN: In Miami, Armando Salguero notes the Dolphins are "currently scheduled to play only one prime time game" this season after having four in '17. The team was a "disappointing 1-3 in those prime time games" on their way to a 6-10 overall record (MIAMI HERALD, 4/20). The Dolphins frankly "didn't deserve a national audience after the eggs they laid on such stages last season" (PALM BEACH POST, 4/20). Meanwhile, in Tampa, Greg Auman notes while the Buccaneers will host an "MNF" game, they "won't have a game on a Thursday night" for the first time since '11 (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 4/20).
HELPING HAND: THE MMQB's Peter King reported NFL Senior VP/Broadcasting & Media Operations Howard Katz "spent work days for the last four months ... poring over 59,031 possible schedules and picking the 58,911th, which was spit out of a computer Tuesday." The "big edge for the league, and the reason this year's schedule was so easy: Five of the recently bad teams got good" by the end of '17 -- the Jaguars, Rams, 49ers, Bills and Titans. Katz "didn't have to lean on the Patriots and Steelers and Packers -- and their marquee quarterbacks -- to carry the league." King: "The Cowboys and the Patriots, and the Steelers and the Packers, and the Super Bowl champions are going to be on national television plenty." However, the 49ers are going to be a "really interesting story," and while the Raiders were out of the playoffs last year, fans are "hopeful that they can bounce back" (SI.com, 4/19).