The NFL will release the 2011 schedule this evening despite the ongoing labor uncertainty. The anticipation has been focused on who will be the Thanksgiving Day opponent in recent years but that has shifted with their late season success and expected improvement. Will the Lions get a game in primetime?
I don’t know if I could give it better than 50-50 odds but the Lions certainly do have a number of things going for them. They enter the 2011 season with the second longest active winning streak and feature a number of highly marketable players. Calvin Johnson is firmly established as a top fantasy football wide receiver and Ndamukong Suh is nothing short of a media darling. A team on the rise with likable players perfectly represents what the league should be looking to showcase.
Assuming the Lions do get a game in primetime, I have three guesses which game it will be.
1. at Tampa Bay
The Lions and Bucs squared off in a great game last December. The Lions win at Tampa broke their road losing streak and dealt a severe blow to the Bucs’ playoff chances. A Matthew Stafford-Josh Freeman match up could be compelling as each has shown flashes of becoming one of the league’s best quarterbacks.
2. at Divisional Opponent other than the Vikings
I’ll cheat here a little bit and pick a road game against either the Packers or the Bears. The Lions may push the Vikings out of a prime time slot, which often feature a couple NFC North divisional games each year. It will be the Lions year to host an NFC opponent on Thanksgiving Day and there is a good chance that will be against an NFC North team (just a guess, other possible opponents are Carolina, San Francisco and Atlanta). If true, it is hard to imagine the Lions would have two nationally televised divisional games at home.
3. vs Atlanta
I didn’t want to guess three possible prime time games without including one at home and the Falcons could be the opponent. I eliminated the possibility of a divisional opponent based on the reasoning in guess number two and Carolina and San Francisco based on team strength. That left Atlanta, San Diego and Atlanta as the remaining home opponents. Scan the list of Monday and Sunday night football games and you’ll find a lot of games played within conference; that leaves only the Falcons after taking my other assumptions into account.
Other items to watch for:
I’ll be interested to see where on the schedule a prime time game falls if the Lions get one. There is no doubt the Networks want Matthew Stafford to be the quarterback when the bring the Lions to a national audience so an early season game may be more likely than a later season game. If the networks don’t shy away from a late season game due to concerns over Stafford’s health, they may prefer to slot them into one of the “flex” weeks in case the Lions’ season doesn’t turn out like we all hope.