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Volume 26 No. 139
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NBC's "Sunday Night Football" Package Seen As Big Winner In NFL's '15 Schedule Release

"Sunday Night Football" has been the most-watched primetime show on the last five TV seasons, and it seems the NFL "intends to obliterate the competition" next fall, as a "large chunk of the most sizzling regular-season NFL matchups" will be on NBC, according to John Kryk of the TORONTO SUN. The league released its '15 schedule last night, and "SNF" will feature "marquee teams, marquee quarterbacks, marquee matchups -- almost every week." The season will begin with Steelers-Patriots on Thursday, Sept. 10 on NBC. Those teams will make a total of three appearances on NBC, as will the Seahawks, Packers, Cowboys and Broncos. The Eagles, Colts, Ravens, 49ers and Giants each will make two "SNF" appearances. Fourteen of 18 scheduled "SNF" games feature at least one of the league's "elite passers" -- Tom Brady (Patriots), Peyton Manning (Broncos), Aaron Rodgers (Packers), Tony Romo (Cowboys), Ben Roethlisberger (Steelers) and Russell Wilson (Seahawks). With Sunday night "hogging most of the marquee matchups, Monday night's star continues to drop," as it "fights Thursdays now for the scraps" (TORONTO SUN, 4/22). NFL Network's Rich Eisen said when unveiling the schedule that NBC "dials up a nice, big piece of filet mignon" for the first Sunday night game with Giants-Cowboys ("NFL Total Access," NFL Network, 4/21). However, ESPN.com's John Clayton wrote the opening "MNF" doubleheader "might be one of the most intriguing in years." The early game on Sept. 14 "features the new-look offense" of the Eagles "going against the defense" of first-year Falcons coach Dan Quinn. The "nightcap will be the debut" of 49ers coach Jim Tomsula against the Vikings (ESPN.com, 4/21). NFL.com's Elliot Harrison listed the Week 10 Bills-Jets matchup as his "best Thursday night game." Harrison: "Who can't wait to see Rex Ryan walk into MetLife for the first time since he was fired by the Jets and hired by the Bills?" Harrison listed Week 2's Seahawks-Packers matchup as his "best Sunday night game" and Week 3's Chiefs-Packers as his top "MNF" telecast (NFL.com, 4/21).

PATRIOT GAMES
: In Boston, Ben Volin notes the U.S. is "going to get a heavy dose of the Patriots this fall." The Patriots will have "exactly half of their games shown across the country -- the maximum five nighttime national TV games this fall, plus three games" in the national 4:25pm ET slot. The Pats will play "two Thursday night games," two "SNF" games and one "MNF" game. The three 4:25pm national games "are all against NFC East teams -- at the Cowboys in Week 5, at the Giants in Week 10 and vs. the Eagles in Week 13." The NFL "saved the Patriots-Cowboys game for a regular Sunday instead of the Thanksgiving game, which draws big ratings no matter the teams" (BOSTON GLOBE, 4/22). ESPN BOSTON's Mike Reiss wrote fans who prefer the traditional 1:00pm Sunday games "might be disappointed with the Patriots' home slate" (ESPNBOSTON.com, 4/21).

PRIMETIME PLAYERS: In Baltimore, Jeff Zrebiec notes the Ravens play the league-maximum five primetime games this season, the team's most since '11. The Ravens are "scheduled to play 8 of their 16 regular-season games" at 4:05pm or later (Baltimore SUN, 4/22). In Seattle, Bob Condotta notes the Seahawks play in a "franchise record" five primetime games (SEATTLE TIMES, 4/22). ESPN DALLAS' Todd Archer noted the Cowboys "have their requisite five games on prime time, with three games on NBC and a game each on ESPN and NFL Network" (ESPNDALLAS.com, 4/21). In N.Y., Paul Schwartz notes the Giants "have five night games and will play four of their first six games in prime time." And for the "third time in the last four years, the Giants open their season against the Cowboys" (N.Y. POST, 4/22).

SUCCESS IS REWARDED: In Detroit, Dave Birkett notes the Lions "made the playoffs for just the second time since the turn of the century last year, and NFL schedule-makers rewarded them with a slate chock full of prime-time games this fall." The Lions also "travel to London" for a nationally televised game against the Chiefs as part of the NFL's Int'l Series. Lions QB Matthew Stafford said, "I know as players guys get really fired up to play on prime time. It's a lot of fun to play in front of the whole country. I think you kind of have to earn them, no question. You got to play good for them to put you on a national TV games and we'll see what happens" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 4/22). In Cincinnati, Paul Dehner Jr. notes the Bengals "tied a franchise record for scheduled primetime games with four, all of which will come in the final nine weeks of the season." Bengals coach Marvin Lewis: "It's a compliment to our franchise, a challenge for the team, and exciting for our fans to have the two home night games in November" (CINCINNATI ENQUIRER, 4/22).

STILL COMMANDING ATTENTION: The 49ers have four primetime games this year, and CSNBayArea.com's Matt Maiocco said the development was "something that I don’t think I necessarily expected." The team is coming off an 8-8 season and coach Jim Harbaugh left for the Univ. of Michigan. Maiocco said, "When you look at the marquee value of the 49ers right now, it’s taken a hit with some players leaving and probably the most recognizable coach (in the NFL).” He added, “The 49ers are showing that they’re still a franchise that people regard as being -- I don’t know if it’s ‘must-see TV,’ but maybe a team you’ll want to see from time to time” (“Sports Talk Live,” CSN Bay Area, 4/21).

ON THE WAY UP: In Rochester, Sal Maiorana notes the Bills for the first time since '09 will play in two primetime games, which will be held in "back-to-back weeks." It "seemed logical" that Ryan's first coach as Bills coach would be the NFL's season opener given his rivalry with Patriots coach Bill Belichick. However, the Steelers were given the opening night honors (ROCHESTER DEMOCRAT & CHRONICLE, 4/22). In Cleveland, Mary Kay Cabot notes the Browns are back on "MNF" for the "first time in six years -- against the Ravens" on Nov. 30 (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 4/22). In St. Paul, Chris Tomasson writes the Vikings playing in the second game of the "MNF" Week 1 doubleheader is a "sign expectations will be higher" in '15. The Vikings "didn't have a single Monday game" in '14 (ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS, 4/22). 

FALLING OUT OF FAVOR: In West Palm Beach, Hal Habib notes the Dolphins "continue to fight for national attention" despite the offseason signing of DT Ndamukong Suh. They will "make two prime-time appearances, but none" on "SNF." The Dolphins "have played on Sunday night only once since NBC took over the package" in '06 (PALM BEACH POST, 4/22). In Chicago, Brad Biggs notes "sustained mediocrity finally outweighed the Bears' position in the No. 2 television market in the country." The Bears "went from being a big draw for networks in primetime, playing five night games in 2014 and 12 over the three seasons before that, to getting just two this season" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 4/22). 

MAKER'S MARK: THE MMQB's Peter King notes the league's four-person scheduling team, led by NFL Senior VP/Broadcasting & Media Operations COO Howard Katz, was "at an impasse" just 10 days ago. Katz said, "Too many weak TV weeks we had to fix. We had some schedules that were close, but each had something we considered a fatal flaw. I was very frustrated. I was thinking we’d be lucky to find a workable schedule before the (April 30) draft” (MMQB.SI.com, 4/22).