Note: Former Bears tight end (and blog favorite) Desmond Clark has let me know he disagrees quite strongly with my take on the Matt Forte contract situation. I have offered him a chance to pen a rebuttal and he has accepted. As soon as I receive that I will post it here.
There are two major NFL events in April. The draft is the centerpiece. It receives four days of live television coverage across three networks and, as the industry it has become, employs thousands upon thousands of human beings. Fans begin debating who their teams will select in the first round of the coming draft literally ten seconds after they are mathematically eliminated from playoff contention (and sometimes sooner).
The announcement of the coming year's schedule involves four or five guys in an office in midtown Manhattan. Ten or twelve gallons of coffee. A pack of Marlboro reds the fellas have to lean out the window to smoke. The programming heads of CBS, Fox, NBC and ESPN on the speakerphone. It is my favorite day of the off-season. And its not close. This is where we find out what our primetime football is going to be for the entire year. What our Thanksgiving games will be. When the Bears will meet the Packers, Lions and Vikings. On a personal level this is when I decide the dates of my annual in-season Chicago voyage. It is Christmas for me, except I like it a lot more.
The schedule is usually released around the second Tuesday in April. Here are some thoughts on what I'm expecting. I've never attempted to guess the schedule before. I'm interested to see how I do.
- We know the Giants will host the Cowboys on the opening Wednesday night. Some reports have the first Sunday night matchup being Peyton's Broncos hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers. It almost makes too much sense.
- NBC airs the Thanksgiving night game this year so the league will try to hand them a sure thing. My guess? Peyton's Broncos at Foxboro to meet Brady and Belichick.
- If you're wondering if the Bears will play on Thanksgiving, here is what you need to consider: will the league want to send Houston to Detroit on their biggest afternoon of the regular season? If they don't, then it'll be an AFC team going to Dallas to meet the CBS requirement (and Pittsburgh is an option). Imagine this Thanksgiving lineup. Bears at Lions. Steelers at Cowboys. Peyton at Brady.
- The Jets travel to Jacksonville. Tebow goes home. Maybe I'm crazy but I don't see how the league does not make this a Monday Night Football game and allow ESPN to fawn all over Tebus of Nazareth for their forty day and forty night pregame show. (This immediately becomes the most unwatchable three hours of TV all year.)
- My prediction. Bears close season at home against the Lions and open on the road against either the Packers or Vikings.
- With the Thursday night games starting in Week 2, the league needs to be fair. You can't ask any of the teams playing Sunday to take their first big hits of the calendar year and travel for a midweek game. The Giants will have a week of rest at that point. Send them to Baltimore or Cincinnati. Everyone's happy.
- Bears total primetime games will be hurt by their schedule. They have the two least sexy divisions in the league on their schedule: AFC South and NFC West. I'm guessing two Sunday nighters (Packers, Cowboys), one Monday nighter (Niners) and a Thursday nighter (Colts).
- The Saints are slated to play the Giants in Jersey. I don't think I'm going out on a limb saying a Bill Parcells-led Saints team at the Meadowlands will be a guaranteed Sunday night affair and might actually be a contender for the Thanksgiving night slot.
- Weird prediction. The league rewards the Buffalo Bills' signing of Mario Williams by allowing them to open at home on Monday night against the New York Jets.
I have got a million more but I won't bore you. Here's a question for you to ponder, both in a personal and football context. Do you want the Bears to play on Thanksgiving? Why or why not?
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