Parsing the Primetime Pigskin Packages

The NFL has released its 2014 schedule, the first under its new multiyear, multibillion rights contracts with its network partners. But it was the newest entry – Les Moonves’ Thursday night package featuring CBS and NFL Network – that attracted much of the attention.

Kicking off with the second week of the season, CBS will air Thursday night games that will be simulcast on NFL Network through late October, before the league’s in-house network picks up the ball during the second half of the campaign (see schedule below)

Not surprisingly, the better games by DMA and on paper are on tap for CBS’s portion of the slate. The NFL wants to become more of a player on one of TV and advertising’s top nights. CBS’s deal is for one year, with the presumption that big Nielsens will make the rights bidding climb higher for subsequent seasons – and perhaps punt NFL Network out of the game equation entirely.

CBS’s first game on Sept. 11 is the heated AFC North division rivalry pitting the Steelers at the Ravens in Baltimore.  On Sept. 25, there’s the big market NFC East match-up between the Giants and Redskins (before both teams potentially descend to the league’s lower ranks), while the G-men’s Met Life Stadium neighbors, the Jets, travel to Foxboro to meet Tom Brady and Bill Belichick’s Patriots on Oct. 16. Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and Indy’s Andrew Luck are also on the docket, before the simulcasts end with a playoff rematch between the Chargers and Peyton Manning’s Super Bowl runner-up Broncos on Oct. 23. The only clunker: Tampa at Atlanta on Sept. 18.

NFL Network begins going it alone (at least on-air, CBS is producing the games and Jim Nantz and Phil Simms will make the calls) on Oct. 30 with a strong NFC South matchup between playoff squads, New Orleans and Carolina. Cowboys-Bears matches two of the league’s most popular franchises on Dec. 4. There are also a host of divisional battles, albeit not the most intriguing ones: Browns-Bengals on Nov. 6; Bills-Dolphins on Nov. 13; Chief-Raiders on Nov. 20; Cardinals-Rams on Dec. 11. The last Thursday nighter is Titans-Jaguars on Dec. 18. Surely, you didn’t think these NFL Network staples were going to wind up on CBS?

As to Monday Night Football, ESPN -- the league’s top rights payor at $1.9 billion, $2 billion when you tack on its first playoff game, a Wild Card affair -- has a good schedule this year. All 12 NFL playoff squads are on its roster, including Denver and their Super Bowl XLVIII conquerors, Seattle.

Eight squads – Bears, Colts, Giants, Jets, Saints, Eagles, Steelers, Redskins – will appear twice on MNF.  If the New York teams, Bears, Redskins and Eagles are good, Mike Tirico, Jon Gruden and John Skipper should all be happy.

There are smiles all around at 30 Rock and in Stamford, as NBC once again has been awarded a top-flight Sunday Night Football schedule.  Looking at a three-peat as TV’s top show this campaign, SNF looms as a favorite to win the 2014-15 season as well, something Roger Goodell, Brian Rolapp, Steve Burke and Mark Lazarus can all make like Peacocks about.

Not only is the entire 2013 playoff field part of the lineup, but 16 of NBC’s 18 scheduled games involve at least one postseason participant and half of the contests match two.

There are three games apiece from the Seahawks, Broncos, Patriots, Packers and 49ers, not to mention Jerry Jones’s mediocre men.

And for those really keeping score – NBC arguably has the two best Thursday night games to boot: The Sept. 4 season opener in which the Packers visit Paul Allen’s Seahawks and the Thanksgiving nightcap at the Field of Jeans, the NFC championship game rematch between Seattle and San Francisco.

CBS/NFL Network Schedule

Sept. 11: Steelers at Ravens
Sept. 18: Buccaneers at Falcons
Sept. 25: Giants at Redskins
Oct. 2: Vikings at Packers
Oct. 9: Colts at Texans
Oct. 16: Jets at Patriots
Oct. 23: Chargers at Broncos
Oct. 30: Saints at Panthers (NFL Network)
Nov. 6: Browns at Bengals (NFL Network)
Nov. 13: Bills at Dolphins (NFL Network)
Nov. 20: Chiefs at Raiders (NFL Network)
Dec. 4: Cowboys at Bears (NFL Network)
Dec. 11: Cardinals at Rams (NFL Network)
Dec. 18: Titans at Jaguars (NFL Network)
Dec. 20: Eagles at Redskins (NFL Network/CBS)
Chargers at 49ers (CBS/NFL Network)

ESPN's MNF Schedule

Sept 8: NY Giants at Detroit (7:10 p.m.)
Sept. 8 {San Diego at Arizona (10:20 p.m.)

Sept. 15: Philadelphia at Indianapolis
Sept. 22: Chicago at NY Jets
Sept. 29: New England at Kansas City
Oct. 6: Seattle at Washington
Oct. 13: San Francisco at St. Louis
Oct. 20: Houston at Pittsburgh
Oct. 27: Washington at Dallas
Nov. 3: Indianapolis at NY Giants
Nov. 10: Carolina at Philadelphia
Nov. 17: Pittsburgh at Tennessee
Nov. 24: Baltimore at New Orleans
Dec. 1: Miami at NY Jets
Dec. 8: Atlanta at Green Bay
Dec. 15: New Orleans at Chicago
Dec. 22: Denver at Cincinnati

NBC's Schedule

Sept. 4: Packers at Seahawks

Sept. 7: Colts at Broncos
Sept. 14: Bears at 49ers
Sept. 21: Steelers at Panthers
Sept. 28: Saints at Cowboys
Oct. 5:  Bengals at Patriots
Oct. 12: Giants at Eagles
Oct. 19: 49ers at Broncos
Oct. 26: Packers at Saints
Nov. 2: Ravens at Steelers
Nov. 9: Bears at Packers
Nov. 16: Patriots at Colts
Nov. 23: Cowboys at Giants

Nov. 27: Seahawks at 49ers (Thanksgiving)
Nov. 30: Broncos at Chiefs
Dec. 7: Patriots at Chargers
Dec. 14: Cowboys at Eagles
Dec. 21: Seahawks at Cardinals