Even when there were baseball games, golf tournaments, NBA playo ffs and tennis tournaments competing for the attention of sports fans, the NFL has always found a way to carve out space to continue its momentum.
Now that all those sports are on hiatus, the folks who run professional football are taking that concept to another level.
The NFL has dominated the news over the last two months, first with the draft and then with free agency signings. It didn’t hurt that the best quarterback of all time turned one of the league’s struggling destinations into “Tompa Bay.” Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski deciding to play for the Buccaneers has been a major storyline.
With Brady’s move to Tampa, the NFC South now features Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Teddy Bridgewater and Brady at the quarterback position. That’s a stout group, even if it could be reasonably argued that all four are past their absolute prime.
As soon as the buzz from free agency began to die down, the NFL unveiled its next extravaganza. Last week, the league announced the schedule for all 32 teams.
But here’s the marketing genius of the NFL: The league had already announced who each team would face this season on a previous made-for-TV event; the latest event was simply to announce the dates of each of those games.
Here’s a few observations now that the entire slate has been revealed:
* The New Orleans Saints are positively one of the league’s marquee teams. In fact, it looks to me like the Saints will be featured in the headliner game in each of the first three weeks.
First, Brady and the Bucs come to New Orleans for the late Sunday afternoon showcase game. Brady vs. Brees is must-see TV for football fans. The Saints have already been installed as a touchdown favorite. That’s significant because Brady has not been an underdog in 74 consecutive regular-season games. That’s an all-time record.
In Week 2, the Saints will go on the road for the first NFL game ever played in Las Vegas. The unveiling of the new, state-of-the-art stadium and the first home game of the Raiders is going to be a Monday night event.
In Week 3, the Packers and Aaron Rodgers come to New Orleans for another prime-time game, this one on Sunday night.
No other team has three high-profile games to match those three openers. That’s the treatment you get when you have a future Hall of Fame quarterback and you’re one of the favorites to win the Super Bowl.
Top to bottom, this has a chance to be the best roster in Saints history.
* The league will not play any games at international locations this year. The NFL is always looking to expand its footprint for fans, but trying to play in Europe makes no sense in 2020. It was a smart decision for the league.
* Even smarter than that is how the schedule has been made extremely flexible.
The NFL has been steadfast in saying the plan is to play the 2020-21 season without any delay. Of course, there’s no way of knowing if the COVID-19 pandemic will prevent that from being possible.
So, while the league has been positive in every public comment, the schedule also has room to change. If the season is delayed, the plan is to simply add the missed weeks onto the end of the schedule and start later with the playoffs and Super Bowl.
For example, if the season was delayed by one week, the Saints would open the season at Las Vegas. The Tampa Bay at New Orleans game would be bumped to the week after the last scheduled game. If the delay lasted two weeks, the Saints would open at home against Green Bay, with the Tampa Bay and Las Vegas games moved to the end of the schedule.
The league has already made provisions for starting the playoffs and the Super Bowl at the later dates if needed.
* Nobody with the NFL has made any official comment about how many fans will be allowed in any stadium when games can be played. Again, that’s a smart move by the league. There’s no reason to speculate about that at this point. Plus, the league knows that most fans (and the TV networks and advertisers) are more concerned about producing a quality TV program.
If fans are in the stadium to enjoy it and add to the atmosphere, that’s a bonus.
There’s a reason the NFL is king in this country. The latest schedule announcement is just the most recent example why.
Randy Kennedy, who has been a leading voice on the Gulf Coast sports scene for 18 years, writes a weekly column for Lagniappe. His sports talk show airs weekdays on the new Sports Talk 99.5 from 7-10 a.m.
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