USA TODAY - The 2014 NFL schedule was released Wednesday night. Here are the 13 things you need to know about the league's 256-game slate.
1. Week 1 is going to be spectacular
The long wait for the NFL season is going to be worth it, thanks to a spectacular Week 1 slate that's already making fans pine for September.
As FTW predicted one day after the Super Bowl, the reigning Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks will host the Green Bay Packers in the 2014 Thursday night season opener. The Dallas Cowboys will host the San Francisco 49ers in the Fox national game at 4:25 p.m. on Sunday. Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning face off on Sunday night. And the early Monday Night Football game features two of the more intriguing teams of 2014, as the Detroit Lions travel east to play the New York Giants. One of those 2013 disappointments will get off to a fast start in 2014, while the other will lose and possibly be treated to fantastic, caustic back-page headlines in New York City tabloids.
Opening day is only 134 days away, "only" being the operative word. If you're a glass half-empty person, we're further away from the opening Thursday night than we are from Week 15 of last season.
2. You may have to eat Thanksgiving dinner in front of the TV
This is the best football feast in NFL history.
In recent years, the Thanksgiving schedule has usually featured one snoozer matchup, one marquee matchup and a hit-or-miss nightcap. That left a good window for which to sit around the table and eat in between games. Not this year, my friends. In 2014, you may want to try buffet style with a TV in the dining room. Better yet, just eat on Friday.
The Lions had figured to play their game on CBS against either the Bills or the Dolphins, as per NFL rules that dictate an NFC home game against an AFC team airs on the AFC network. But a change this year has the Lions bucking tradition and playing the Chicago Bears on CBS. It's the first time ever an AFC team hasn't played on Thanksgiving.
Of course, that's just the prelude to two better games: Philadelphia at Dallas is the late kickoff on Fox and one of the year's marquee matchups — Seattle at San Francisco — is NBC's primetime game.
3. CBS is the new must-see TV on Thursdays
Though CBS's new eight-game Thursday slate isn't as strong as had been rumored, it's a massive improvement from the old NFL Network schedule. A sampling: Pittsburgh at Baltimore, San Diego at Denver, New York Giants at Washington and the New York Jets at New England. You'll notice all those games having something in common: They're all divisional matchups. But NFLN gets in on the Thursday night fun too: Its schedule opens with New Orleans at Carolina.
CBS also has some must-see Sundays. The network kept the two biggest non-divisional games of the year for its 4:25 p.m. ET window: Denver at Seattle (Week 3) and Denver at New England (Week 9).
4. Saturday games are back
For the first time since 2005, the NFL will make a non-holiday return to Saturday afternoons. On Dec. 20, Washington plays Philadelphia and the San Diego Chargers travel to San Francisco. (One of those games starts at 4:30 p.m. ET, the other at 8 p.m. ET. The NFL will announce the specific schedule at a later date.) The league had dumped the late-December Saturday afternoon games in favor of a primetime game.
5. You'll be sick of the Chicago Bears
Between the maximum five primetime games (two Sunday, two Monday, one Thursday) and a Thanksgiving game against the Lions, the Bears are already scheduled for six nationally-televised, stand-alone games in 2014. Those two Thursday games are back-to-back weeks, by the way. The Bears are basically the Virginia Tech of the NFL.
6. This game will make you curse the schedule makers
Since flex scheduling begins in Week 5 this year, there shouldn't be any late-October stinkers clogging up your Sunday night television. But Monday night's schedule is set in stone, which means we're stuck with Dolphins at Jets on Dec. 1 whether we like it or not.
7. Arizona at Seattle is the SNF game most likely to be flexed
Arizona travels to Seattle on Dec. 21 for the final scheduled Sunday night game of the year. (Week 17′s game is announced after Week 16.) Maybe Arizona has another stellar season and stays afloat in the NFC West. Maybe, they're out of it by Thanksgiving, as usual. Either way, flex scheduling saves us from worrying about that.
8. It's time for breakfast with the NFL
Echoing Mark Cuban's claim that the NFL is trying to invade all time slots, the league is putting on a Sunday morning game this year. As had been previously announced, the Lions and Falcons will kick-off from London at 9:30 a.m. ET on Oct. 26. If you're in the east, make brunch plans at a restaurant with accessible television. If you're on the west coast, I don't know, stay up real late on Saturday?
9. There will always be a Manning on your television
Not surprisingly, the reigning AFC champion Denver Broncos are already scheduled for 10 nationally televised games. In the rare weeks without Peyton on national TV, you'll see Eli and the New York Giants with nationwide billing three times.
10. It's always sunny in Jacksonville
he Jags are scheduled for 14 games with a 1 p.m. ET kickoff. The two exceptions: A 4:05 ET start in Week 4 in San Diego and the must-miss Thursday night game on Dec. 18 against the Titans. (You may want to plan your holiday shopping for that night.)
11. Redskins-Cowboys continues to be a Monday Night Football staple
The Oct. 27 game between Washington and Dallas will be the 16th MNF meeting between the NFC East rivals. Only Oakland-Denver (17) has been featured more.
12. Tom Brady doesn't get the national stage until Week 4
The NFL left Tom hanging, as New England doesn't get a nationally televised game until Week 4′s Monday night game against Kansas City. But don't fret; after that, it's Brady, all the time. Seven of the next 10 Pats games are slated for Thursday, Sunday or Monday night or a late-afternoon kick.
13. San Francisco isn't ready for some football
Due to traffic concerns around the team's new Santa Clara Stadium, the 49ers aren't hosting any non-holiday Thursday or Monday night games in 2014.
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