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Volume 22 No. 19
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Signs point to Bears-Packers for ’19 kickoff game

Move would be a break from tradition, which typically sees the Super Bowl champion appearing in the season’s first game.
The Bears-Packers rivalry dates back to 1921. Starting the year with the 199th matchup in their history would help the league start its 100th season celebration in style.
Photo: Getty Images

The NFL is leaning toward having the Bears host the Packers for next season’s opening kickoff game on Thursday, Sept. 5, according to multiple sources. The move would mark the first time since 2006 that the Super Bowl champion will not appear in the league’s opening game. The newly crowned Patriots likely will host the season’s first “Sunday Night Football” game instead, on Sept. 8.

 

The NFL is leaning toward having Chicago host the season’s first game as part of its 100th season celebration, allowing it to showcase the league’s oldest rivalry. The Bears and Packers first played in 1921 and have faced each other 198 times.

 

NBC will carry the Thursday night game, which, like other NFL season openers, will feature entertainment outside Soldier Field.

 

The Ravens are the only other Super Bowl champion since 2006 that did not host the league’s opening game the following season. In 2013, the NFL had Baltimore open the season in Denver because of a scheduling conflict with the neighboring Orioles, who also were playing that night.

 

New England’s most likely opponents for the opening “Sunday Night Football” game are the Browns, Chiefs, Giants or Steelers, each of which is on the Patriots’ 2019 schedule. My guess is that the NFL picks the Giants over the Steelers because the NFC’s schedule is much stronger than the AFC’s this year, and the league will want to save AFC games for later in the season. The NFL seems likely to want to schedule the high-profile Patriots-Chiefs game for later in the season. While the Browns and their quarterback Baker Mayfield may be exciting, the NFL could decide that the franchise has not earned such a high-profile scheduling position.

 

The NFL is not yet close to finalizing its schedule, which typically gets released in April. But during Super Bowl week in Atlanta, network executives from CBS, ESPN, Fox and NBC pitched Howard Katz, NFL senior vice president of broadcasting, and Hans Schroeder, COO of NFL Media, on the types of games they want.

 

Some of the network requests are the same every year. Every network wants reliable ratings performers like the Cowboys, Patriots, Packers and Steelers on its schedule. For this upcoming season, the networks also showed a lot of interest in the Chiefs, Bears and Rams.

 

The one common theme that ran through all these meetings dealt with the strength of the NFC pool of games for the 2019 season. One executive said he had never seen such disparity between the ratings potential for the NFC and AFC games.

 

This season, the NFC East (Cowboys, Eagles, Giants, Washington) plays the NFC North (Bears, Packers, Vikings, Detroit), which will lead to big ratings. Plus, the interconference games put many of the best games in the NFC pool (Dallas at New England; Green Bay at Kansas City; L.A. Rams at Pittsburgh), executives said.

 

Because of that disparity, look for the NFL to crossflex more high-quality NFC games to CBS than it has in the past, including at least one Cowboys game. My bet is that CBS picks up the Cowboys-Packers game, but it could be the Cowboys-Saints.

 

Also look for NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” and Fox’s “Thursday Night Football” to wind up with a healthy dose of games from the NFC pool.

 

Fox came to its meeting with nine executives, led by Fox Sports CEO and executive producer Eric Shanks. Its main message was that, like last season, it wants to seed “Thursday Night Football” with high-quality games that normally would anchor its Sunday afternoon schedule. In fact, Fox wants to be even more aggressive with its “Thursday Night Football” schedule this season.

 

CBS took four executives into its scheduling meeting, led by Chairman Sean McManus and President David Berson. CBS’s main message was that it wanted to keep as many good AFC games as it can.

 

NBC’s delegation was led by Mark Lazarus, chairman of NBCUniversal Broadcast, Cable, Sports and News and NBC Sports executive producer Fred Gaudelli. As the producer of television’s top-rated prime-time show — “Sunday Night Football” — for a record eight consecutive seasons, NBC pushed for the best matchups available.

 

Burke Magnus, ESPN executive vice president of programming and scheduling, led ESPN’s charge, requesting specific matchups that the network more easily could tie into the NFL’s 100th season celebration.

 

One broadcasting switch to expect this season will occur in London, where the NFL plans to stage four games. Expect NFL Network exclusively to carry the two London games that start at 9:30 a.m. ET. In the past, NFL Network had only carried one of those games exclusively. Of the two 1 p.m. ET kickoffs in London, look for CBS to carry one and Fox to carry the other.

 

It will be interesting to see who carries the Chiefs-Chargers game from Mexico City. ESPN has carried the Mexico City games in the past and is a likely candidate for this one. But ESPN has designs on another Chiefs game, and it’s not likely that the NFL will put two Kansas City games on the “Monday Night Football” schedule. CBS and NBC are more remote possibilities to carry it.

 

The Thanksgiving afternoon games likely will feature the Bears and Lions on Fox and the Dolphins and Cowboys on CBS.