2017 Schedule: A first look

Unless you’ve been under a rock today (or perhaps in a toilet somewhere “over hydrating”) you’ll have noticed the NFL released the official schedules for all 32 teams overnight.

Every year, even though we know who will be playing who and have done for some time based on the League’s annual rotation of divisional match ups and records from the previous season, we all clamour to see exactly when we play our biggest rival, travel to that team, or whether we’re going to need extra coffee for endless prime time slots.

So, now that we know the where and when of every game in 2017, lets take a look at some of the more interesting aspects of this year’s schedule.

Starting with a bang

The season gets underway Week 1 with some potentially intriguing match ups right out of the gate.

The customary Thursday night season opener with the Super Bowl champions sees not the Falcons travel to Foxborough as many had thought may happen (that is saved for Week 7) but rather the visit of one of the Patriots potential conference rivals this year – the Kansas City Chiefs. The Patriots offense got even scarier this off season, so it will be a fascinating match up to see how the Chiefs dynamic defense copes with the early challenge.

Two other AFC challengers for 2017 also go head to head Week 1 with the Raiders visiting the Titans. Both teams saw their season derailed with significant injuries to their starting QB last year, so both will want to get off to a strong start this time around.

We also get to watch the Seahawks and Packers going at it again which is always a good match up to sit back and enjoy, and the now almost customary opening weekend helping of Giants and Cowboys being the prime time game on Sunday night. In fact, the NFC East sees all four teams get a divisional match up out of the way first up, with the Redskins hosting the Eagles earlier that day.

It’s difficult to get a feel for how teams will shape up by Week 1 alone, but I think some of these match ups will give a fairly good early indication of what we could expect.

Quality, not quantity

There has been plenty of discussion about football coverage and TV ratings throughout the regular season, which have seen a steady decline in recent years. It seems the schedule makers have looked to try and address that too.

There is no prime time ticket for either the Cleveland Browns or Jacksonville Jaguars this year, and the San Francisco 49ers only have one prime time slot (Thursday Night Football, Week 3) across the entire season.

Instead, the likes of the Patriots, Steelers, and Redskins see 5 prime time games, with the Chiefs beating everyone with a solid 6 games currently scheduled for either Thursday, Sunday or Monday night football. The Steelers actually play four in a row in prime time, in Weeks 11 through 14.

To me, that’s a conscious effort to make sure some of the better (or at least more dynamic) football is on show in the premium slots this time around. Of course, the Commissioner has the power to flex games in or out of prime time, but that would need a significant turnaround from someone like Cleveland or San Francisco in the early part of the season.

At least we won’t have to endure the Titans and Jaguars go at it on Thursday Night colour thrush this year!

A season of two halves

In previous years, we have seen teams hit their bye week as early as Week 4 and as late as Week 13. For those on the peripheries of that window, it made for a very lopsided season.

The NFL have looked to correct that somewhat this year, with the first bye weeks not happening until Week 5, and then all of them being condensed in to a 7 week period, with a full schedule again from Week 12.

It serves several purposes I think, not least to remove the advantage/disadvantage of having your bye week too close to either end of the regular season.

For those of you who are big on Fantasy Football though, it presents a bigger headache when trying to monitor bye week clashes when drafting your big ticket players.

Winners and Losers

It’s way too early to know for sure and there are always those teams that surprise many but, based on recent history, I think some teams will be happier than others right now.

The Ravens, for example, open their season with games against the Bengals, Browns and Jaguars. Three teams who finished 2016 with a combined 10-37-1 record. They also finish with return games against the Bengals and Browns, as well as the Colts. That’s potentially a good start in terms of conference record, as well as a chance for Flacco to have his usual strong finish to the year.

Conversely, the Raiders could well have an uphill battle with some potentially tough match ups at the business end of the season. From Week 11 through Week 15, they have road trips to Mexico to “host” the Patriots and division rivals Kansas City, and they will also host the Broncos, Giants and Cowboys.

They will need to have a strong first half to their season unless they want all of those games to turn in to ‘must win’ contests to keep their Play Off aspirations alive.

Of course, by the time we reach Week 5 or 6, the landscape of the schedule will look somewhat different as teams rise or fall from their respective perches in 2016 and the nuances of the divisions starts to take shape but one thing is certain, as it is every year – 2017 is going to be another fascinating season!