The NFL season is just around the corner, and NBC is using a release about their coverage of Thursday’s Hall of Fame preseason game to also promote their Sunday Night Football schedule. And there are some interesting notes in there; we already discussed in April around the schedule release how NBC’s primetime schedule appeared the strongest in both teams’ previous records and market size ratings, but something else that’s intriguing here comes from how each week features at least one team that made the playoffs last year. Here are NBC’s notes on that:
All 18 scheduled NBC SNF games feature at least one 2018 playoff team (Week 17 game TBD) – up from 14 such matchups last year. In addition, nine contests feature both clubs from the 2018 postseason, highlighted by a rematch of last year’s AFC Divisional Playoff, as Andrew Luck and the Colts again visit Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs (Oct. 6).
All 2018 NFL playoff teams are on the NBC SNF schedule, including three games each for the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, NFC champion Los Angeles Rams, AFC West champion Kansas City Chiefs, NFC East champion Dallas Cowboys, NFC North champion Chicago Bears, and NFC Wild Card Philadelphia Eagles.
Previous playoff status has some merit as a way to dissect a schedule. It’s obviously somewhat correlated with the previous season wins stat we’ve used before (this year, NBC’s primetime schedule features an average of 20.5 wins last season by the two teams participating, well ahead of the 17.0 for Fox, the 16.4 for ESPN and the 13.3 for NFL Network), and is actually more correlated when it comes to 2018 than some previous years. For example, last year’s only case of a better-record team missing the postseason thanks to conference/division setup was the 9-6-1 Steelers, only slightly ahead of the 9-7 Eagles, while a year like 2014-15 saw the 7-8-1 Panthers make it and the 10-6 Eagles miss. So a lot of this is already covered in our analysis of the amount of wins teams had last year, but it’s still interesting to see the jump from 14 weeks with a previous playoff team to 18.
Does that mean this year’s SNF games will be better than last year’s, or do better in the ratings? Not necessarily. Last year’s matchups without a 2017 playoff team were Bears-Packers, Giants-Cowboys, and Cowboys-Texans (NBC’s release suggests there were four, but all the other games on the 2018 SNF schedule have at least one 2017 playoff team), and the Bears, Cowboys and Texans all went on to make the playoffs. Moreover, those games were decided by one, seven and three points respectively, and they all featured teams that tend to do well in the ratings. And there are also always teams that decline significantly after making the playoffs, like the Vikings and Falcons (from 13-3 and 10-6 respectively to 9-7 and 7-9). Interestingly, last year’s biggest dropoffs there were the Jaguars (10-6 to 5-11) and Bills (9-7 to 6-10), and neither made the 2018 SNF schedule.
But overall, this is further evidence of how the NFL likes to put its best matchups on Sunday night. Even with Fox’s push for better Thursday Night Football games and shift of some Sunday matchups to Thursday, they’re still a distant second with 17.0 previous wins last season by the two teams participating, and they have three games (Redskins-Vikings, 49ers-Cardinals, Steelers-Browns) without a 2018 playoff team. Meanwhile, ESPN’s Monday Night Football has 16.4 previous wins, and seven games without a 2018 playoff team. And the three NFL Network-only Thursday Night Football games have just 13.3 previous wins between the teams, and only one of the six teams involved (the Ravens) made the playoffs last year. So this is another entry in how the schedule’s stacked towards Sunday night.
It’s of course possible that some of these teams fall off in 2019 and that the SNF games aren’t as strong as they look right now. A lot can change in a season, and maybe some of last year’s playoff teams will crash and burn. But based on what happened last season, NBC is right to be quite happy with their SNF lineup. And none of the other primetime schedules are particularly close to them when it comes to 2018 playoff teams.