Thanks to the NFL’s set procedure for defining opponents for the next season, the Lions know who will be on their schedule next season.
That’s all well and good but it fails to acknowledge the 500 pound gorilla in the room: the NFL’s labor situation. It is pretty easy to know what happens to the schedule if there is no 2011 season, it goes bye-bye. If you haven’t been under a rock you should be well aware that the league would like to go to an 18-game regular season. Problem: the league’s announcement of 2011 opponents only makes for 16 games.
Some, mlive.com’s Tom Kowalski for instance, suggest that the league could be using the 18-game schedule as a bargaining chip, a ploy to appear to offer a concession when they really aren’t. The players are obviously opposed to two additional regular season games without what they deem to be fair compensation. Dropping the 18-game schedule talk would look like the NFL taking a step to meet the players in the middle. If that is the case then the schedule is set.
If the league truly wants an 18-game schedule and ends up getting it then they need to come up with two more regular season games for each team. The additional two regular season games would be played at the expense of two preseason games but don’t assume would-be preseason matchups will suddenly become regular season games.
Lions fans have grown accustomed to seeing a preseason schedule filled with games with the Browns, Bengals, Steelers and Bills due to travel considerations. The regular season schedule is set much differently as the NFL has a defined and orderly procedure for picking the next year’s opponents. Each division rotates by playing one AFC Division and one NFC division. Next year each NFC North team will play each AFC West team and each team from the NFC South. The other non-divisional games are filled by conference teams that finished in the same place in their respective division the year before. Got it? Good.
Below is a look at the final 2010 NFL standings with the Lions’ 2011 opponents featured in blue:
|AFC East||AFC North||AFC South||AFC West|
|New England||Pittsburgh||Indianapolis||Kansas City|
|NY Jets||Baltimore||Jacksonville||San Diego|
|NFC East||NFC North||NFC South||NFC West|
|NY Giants||Green Bay||New Orleans||St. Louis|
|Dallas||Detroit||Tampa Bay||San Fran.|
So, who would the Lions play if two games get added to next year’s schedule? Well, it is possible the NFL blows the schedule up completely and comes up with a new formulaic way to determine schedules rendering our current list completely useless. I can’t take that kind of chaos and the entire exercise would be futile so I’ll ignore that scenario.
It seems to me that the additional games should be played in-conference. The Lions already play all the teams in the NFC South so they are out of consideration. Games against Dallas and San Francisco are already on the board due to similar finishes in the 2010 standings. That leaves Philadelphia, the Giants, Washington, Seattle, St. Louis and Arizona as remaining logical choices to fill two games for an 18-game schedule.
The cleanest solution that jumps out to me is for the Lions to play Redskins and Cardinals next season along with the other opponents previously announced. One would be a home game and one would be a road game.
I arrive at this conclusion by adding the two fourth place teams from the NFC that the Lions are not already scheduled to play. Under my scenario the first and second place teams would all play each other and the third and fourth place teams would all play each other the next year. This allows the current divisional rotation to continue while emphasizing conference play in a competitively appropriate schedule.