The NFL released the 2014 schedule last week, and it is, like everything related to football, awesome — and possibly endangered, depending on what happens with the burgeoning evidence between the sport and life-altering brain injuries. But that is far down the road — for now.
Significantly closer is the new season, and the upcoming year of football looks to be spectacular. Not just because this year’s draft class has been so attention grabbing, but because things are a little bit different. Not in a serious way, but in a “more football” way. Back when Mark Cuban said the NFL was headed towards imploding if they kept expanding their schedule, it was a smart, thoughtful notion. Now that football is going to be played on Saturday, it seems absurd. Who could ever imagine too much NFL? The players, probably.
1. The NFL is officially bringing Saturday afternoon games to us, the people
That’s one of the best things for sure. In week 15, on December 20, the Washington Redskins will play the Philadelphia Eagles, and the San Diego Chargers will play the San Francisco 49ers. Even if you have no rooting interest in any of those teams, you’ll be able to watch football on Saturday and then watch football on Sunday — like a pair of Sundays in a row.
2. Thursday night games you can actually watch
The NFL Network and Thursday was never a good idea. Never. The idea that more people should be able to watch more games is a great idea — but when the sole mid-week game is exclusively on the NFL’s channel, it might as well have never happened for a majority of football fans. Aside from the inevitable Thursday Night Curse where a fantasy lineup remains unchanged because “hey, the games aren’t until Sunday,” that loss is always, always the haunting misstep that comes back to make a difference come playoff time.
But that’s all in the past, as the NFL’s new television deal with moves all but six of the Thursday night games to real networks that are on real television. CBS will air most of them (including an unbroken stretch from week 2 until week 8) and Fox and NBC each have at least one Thursday, too. Finally, the average television will be able to display that sweet midweek football on any given Thursday.
3. The best Thursday (Thanksgiving) is loaded
Usually, the early games on Thanksgiving are the ones that get indifferently put on while scarce relatives all get together and spend their requisite amount of time catching up only to remember why they don’t see each other more often. This year, the best games are all three of them — no joke. The early game is Bears at Lions (ok, so this has the potential to be the least essential of the three by the time Thanksgiving actually rolls around), the afternoon bout is Eagles at Cowboys, and the evening matchup is the Seahawks at the 49ers.
This is the part where we note that Seahawks/49ers might be the best NFL rivalry in 2014. It’s going to sound like a dumb cliché at this point (dumb clichés being the life blood of the game), but it’s true. Wilson/Kaepernick is poised to become the new Manning/Brady, and even if that elicits groans on the outside, no one can deny that these games are becoming must-watch events. Here’s the CBS folks doing their best to explain why it should last for the next few years.
4. There’s going to be a Sunday morning game
It’s happening during week 8 between the Atlanta Falcons and the Detroit Lions. It’s popping off at 9:30 a.m. Eastern, and it’s physically being played in London. Yes, this is a real thing. No, neither Detroit nor Atlanta are in any danger of losing their teams. Despite the NFL’s infatuation with attracting fans in the United Kingdom, the logistical hurdles – and there are many – seem to make the proposition firmly rooted in the land of fantasy. But in the eyes of commissioner Roger Goodell, at least, there remains enough of a chance to make these things worth pursuing at least once a season.
That’s why it’s no accident that the Falcons and the Lions, who feature pass-friendly offenses that try to make big plays more often than not — as well as Megatron, the best wide receiver in the game and one of the league’s most impressive physical specimens — it appeals to the more casual fan. That’s right, the non-footballer doesn’t quite enjoy a three-yard run as much as the rest of us.
5. They’re acknowledging the hype (and The Fail Mary)
The first thing you see when you log on to the NFL’s regular season listing is a big, bold, sans-serif declaration that the first game of the NFL Season will be “the Revenge of The Fail Mary.” The Fail Mary, which was the blown touchdown call (Golden Tate definitely didn’t catch that ball, and we dig the Seahawks) that gave Seattle a win over the Green Bay Packers as well as a lead to the quick reinstatement of the real referees — at least since the NFL had locked them out, and were using the infamous “replacement refs” at the time. Either way, it’s fun to see the National Football League have a little fun with what was a very contentious event just two years ago. If you feel like relishing in the schadenfreude of the call, a replay is right here.
6. The Monday Night Football games are some of the best on the schedule
Ok, so week 1 looks kind of iffy — Giants/Lions could be really fun (if only for the sad despair or effervescent joy of Eli Manning’s facial expressions), but Bills/Chargers? Maybe if everything breaks right, but it’s going to be one of those late games that really makes a viewer wonder if it’s worth the zero sleep in preparation of what’ll be a long, long Tuesday.
After that, though? Eagles/Colts in week 2, Patriots/Chiefs in week 4, Seahawks/Redskins in week 5? Yes, please. Monday Night Football has always been the most shared experience in all of NFL fandom — at least, before the Thursday night games moved to real television, it was the one game that absolutely everyone watched. Last year’s Monday Night Football introduced all of us to Chip Kelly and his magical offense. Hopefully this year has a similar revelation or two in store.