When the NFL released the 2020 schedule this week, it didn’t take long for some people to realize the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New England Patriots don’t have an overlapping game until late December.
In fact, Tom Brady’s current and former teams only shared two simultaneous windows, the aforementioned Week 15 and then again in Week 17. Hearing that, it’s easy to assume the league did their broadcast partners a favor by ensuring that Patriots fans who might want to follow Brady’s new adventures would be able to do so without having to make any sacrifices. But when ESPN’s Mike Reis asked the league about it, they responded with a statement calling it a coincidence:
“Putting together the 256-game schedule is very complex — it’s a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma,” league spokesman Brian McCarthy said via email, when asked if the league had this Brady-Patriots dynamic in mind. “The minimal conflicts here are coincidental.”
As Reis and others have noted, the primetime windows are a big factor here. The Pats and Bucs both play five primetime games, and only Week 9 features both teams playing in primetime, with Tampa Bay hosting New Orleans on Sunday night while the Patriots travel to play the Jets on Monday night. That means the remaining eight primetime games for both teams are scattered across eight separate weeks. Still, it’s tempting to read more into it, especially if you’re predisposed to conspiracy theories and/or very bored right now.
But looking into the evidence, there’s not much to the theory. (Which is disappointing, as I’m very bored.) In addition to the primetime element, the 2020 divisional rotations have been set for years now, with the AFC East playing both the NFC West and AFC West this season. That means eight of their sixteen games are either out west (guaranteeing an afternoon or primetime game) or home to a western team (increasing the likelihood of an afternoon or primetime game.) Only three of New England’s games against the two West divisions are home 1 PM kicks.
The NFC South meanwhile, plays the NFC North and the AFC West. Week 12 is instructive here; both Tampa Bay and New England are playing home games against non-divisional competition. The Patriots are hosting the Cardinals, one of the 1 PM kicks from above. Tampa Bay, meanwhile, is hosting the Chiefs, but that matchup is in the late window on CBS, for obvious reasons.
The best evidence, though, might be looking at last year’s schedules, when there would be absolutely no reason for anyone to have cared about this as a potential conflict. In 2019, Tampa Bay and New England played during the same broadcast window a grand total of three times. As fun as it would be to talk NFL scheduling conspiracies, it’s probably time to move along, as there really isn’t anything to see here.