Nov 28, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions running back Reggie Bush (21) receives an award after the game against the Green Bay Packers during a NFL football game on Thanksgiving at Ford Field. Detroit won 40-10. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
The biggest surprise in the release of the Detroit Lions’ 2014 regular season schedule was the fact that they will host an NFC opponent on Thanksgiving Day for the second-consecutive year. That breaks the previous pattern as the Lions and Dallas Cowboys alternated between AFC and NFC opponents on a yearly basis.
If there was a reason to expect this break in tradition, the Lions weren’t let on to the fact. In renewal information sent to season ticket holders and the season ticket information still available on the team’s website at the time of this post, the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins were specifically noted as the two possibilities as the team’s 2014 Thanksgiving opponent.
So what happened?
It is unclear why the league decided to switch things up but it is important to note that 2014 is the first year of the new television deals. Under those agreements, the NFL has greater flexibility in changing the rigid conference relationships with Fox and CBS. Under the new deals, Fox will still primarily carry games involving NFC road teams while CBS will continue with games involving AFC road games but there will be some “crossflexing”, as explained on NFL.com earlier today:
"The “cross flex” mechanism will serve a similar purpose. Select games can be flexed between CBS and FOX. In the past, a game with two NFC teams had to be on FOX and a game with two AFC teams had to be on CBS. Now, the league can theoretically move an all-NFC game to CBS or an all-AFC game to FOX in select cases."
The opportunity to put an NFC North clash between the Lions and Bears in a premium television slot over keeping the rotation with the Bills or Dolphins was likely the deciding factor for the NFL. While the Lions won’t be facing an AFC opponent, CBS will still broadcast the Thanksgiving game from Detroit as one of three pre-determined crossflex games for the network:
"In addition to the AFC package of games, for the first time ever, THE NFL ON CBS’s broadcast schedule features NFC games highlighted by Chicago-Detroit (Thanksgiving Day, 11/27); Washington-San Francisco (11/23); Carolina-Baltimore (9/28), as well as other NFC Crossover flex games to be determined later in the season."
As for what happens in future years, apparently we can’t know. It seems from now on any team on the Lions’ schedule is a candidate to be the Thanksgiving opponent, but bet on it being one of the more intriguing matchups.