The NFL did it again.
With most of the sports world stuck on pause amid the coronavirus pandemic, all eyes turned to football Thursday night, as NFL commissioner Roger Goodell pressed on with releasing the league’s 2020 regular-season schedule despite the obvious uncertainty surrounding the upcoming campaign due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
“We will be prepared to make adjustments as necessary, as we have during this offseason in safely and efficiently conducting key activities such as free agency, the virtual draft off-season program, and the 2020 NFL Draft,” Goodell said in a statement.
Basically, everyone — teams, analysts, fans, etc. — operated Thursday as if business will return to normal before the regular season kicks off Sept. 10. We all know that might not hold true, but the blown-out schedule release still dominated the news cycle and increased anticipation for sports’ triumphant return. It was kinda fun.
Still, some folks probably enjoyed the occasion more than others. While we already knew each team’s opponents (home and away) for the 2020 regular season, it became apparent after the exact times and dates for each game were announced Thursday that certain winners and losers emerged from the pack. Let’s take a look.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Not only did they land Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski this offseason, breathing new life into Central Florida. They’re also positioned perfectly from a scheduling standpoint to make a run in 2020.
Sure, that Week 1 matchup in New Orleans is tough. But the slate lets up after that, with the Bucs facing only one 2019 playoff team — the Green Bay Packers at home — from Weeks 2 through 8 before welcoming the Saints to Raymond James Stadium for a primetime rematch in Week 9.
Tampa Bay has a Week 13 bye — a favorable late-season reprieve for Brady — before a less-than-daunting four-week stretch that includes two matchups with the Falcons, a home game against the Vikings and a road date with the Lions.
Oh yeah, and five primetime games is nice for a team that’s had an NFL-low 17 over the last 15 seasons (2005-19). The TB12 effect is real, folks.
The Ravens are coming off a 2019 season in which they posted an NFL-best 14-2 record. One could argue they’ve become more talented thanks to their work in free agency and the draft. And they have the league’s easiest schedule in 2020 based on their opponents’ 2019 winning percentage.
Not enough? OK, how about an incredibly favorable schedule in which the Ravens travel just 6,310 miles, the fewest by any team in the past four seasons, according to ESPN’s Field Yates.
The Seahawks are scheduled to travel the most miles in the NFL this season at 29,203, followed by the Rams (26,104) and 49ers (25,507).
The Ravens will travel just 6,310 miles in 2020, the fewest by any NFL team in the past four seasons.
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) May 8, 2020
Speaking of favorable travel schedules, it’s nice to be the Texans right now.
They’ll have an opportunity (for better or worse) to flex their muscles against the defending Super Bowl champions on opening night in Kansas City and then will face the Ravens at home in Week 2. While it doesn’t get more challenging than that, it’s a chance for the Texans to deliver a couple of early-season haymakers before reaping the real benefit of their schedule: Not traveling any further west than Houston in 2020.
Basically, the Texans can cut their maps in half once the regular season kicks off. They’re currently scheduled to play all early games after Week 2, with each contest taking place either in the Central Time Zone or the Eastern Time Zone. Plus, no overseas trips to speak of — which is the case for every team this season — after traveling to London in 2019.
“It?s all got to play out, like I always say, but I do think that not having to travel as much as we did last year hopefully will help us,” Houston head coach Bill O?Brien told Texans TV?s Drew Dougherty on Thursday.
Welcome to Dallas, Mike McCarthy. The Cowboys have the easiest schedule of any NFC team — based on their opponents’ 2019 winning percentage — and are positioned to start strong in primetime against a suspect Los Angeles Rams team opening a new stadium. Perhaps most importantly, however, the ‘Boys host the 49ers and Eagles in Weeks 15 and 16, respectively, which might help them avoid letting a playoff berth slip through their fingers again.
Week 1 primetime
Consider the three matchups: Texans at Chiefs on Thursday night. Cowboys at Rams on Sunday night. Steelers at Giants and Titans at Broncos in the Monday night doubleheader.
I don’t know. That’s kinda meh, right? The clear matchup of the weekend is Tom Brady and the Buccaneers vs. Drew Brees and the Saints, and even Packers vs. Vikings and Cardinals vs. 49ers are semi-intriguing, for various reasons.
One highlight of the schedule release usually is hopping online to book a trip — or at least dream about doing so — for one of your favorite team’s road games. This year is much different in that regard, as we don’t know whether COVID-19 ultimately will throw a wrench into the NFL’s plans. Heck, we don’t even know if games will include fans this season.
Las Vegas fans
Congratulations, Las Vegas. You officially have a football team. Now, make sure you set your alarms.
The Raiders have six early road games in the Eastern Time Zone this season. That means a bunch of 10 a.m. start times for fans in Vegas, where puking and rallying could become the norm if Saturday night on the strip gets out of hand.
Los Angeles Chargers
According to ESPN Stats & Info, the Chargers have to travel 25,455 miles this season — or 9,794 more than the Chiefs (15,661). That marks the biggest disparity between any two division rivals in the NFL in 2020.
Also, the Chargers are fighting an uphill battle in their quest for Los Angeles supremacy, as the Bolts aren’t scheduled to play a single primetime game in their new stadium this season whereas the Rams are slated to host three such matchups.
The Packers might have just drafted Rodgers’ eventual successor in Utah State quarterback Jordan Love. Now, he receives word Green Bay has a less-than-ideal road to Super Bowl success in 2020.
The Packers open and close their season with divisional road games. They also have a Week 5 bye, the earliest in football, after which they’ll dive into a difficult four-game stretch featuring three road matchups against Tampa Bay, Houston and San Francisco and a home date with Minnesota.
That road game against the Niners comes on Thursday night in Week 9, one week after the Packers host the Vikings, who will roll into Lambeau Field fresh off a Week 7 bye.
Speaking of the Frozen Tundra, the Packers don’t host a single home divisional game after Nov. 29.