Sure, you wouldn’t expect us to say anything other than good things about the NBC Sunday Night Football schedule. That said, the NBC Sunday Night Football schedule for 2011 is a very good thing.
Even without the possibility of late-season flexing, the 17 selected games solid ones, beginning with the Thursday night opener between the last two Super Bowl champs, the Saints and the Packers. Cowboys-Jets caps the first Sunday of the season, the 10th anniversary of 9/11.
In Week Two, Mike Vick and the Eagles return to Atlanta, to face the Falcons. Last year, Vick was injured when the Falcons came to Philly, and a much-anticipated playoff showdown was disrupted by the Packers.
The next week, the Steelers visit the Colts.
In Week Four, the Jets and the Ravens renew a budding rivalry that featured a hard-hitting Week One contest in 2010.
In Week Five, the Packers return to the scene of an NFC division-round beatdown over the Falcons.
The lone possible dead spot comes in Week Six, when the Vikings visit the Bears. Minnesota has low expectations for 2011, and the Bears could be due for a correction. Still, whenever the Vikings and Bears get together, it will be a hard-hitting 180 minutes.
In Week Seven, the Saints host the Colts, with Peyton Manning returning to his hometown of New Orleans to face his father’s team.
On October 30, the World Series counterprogramming this year has the Cowboys visiting the Eagles, a possibly risky move if the Phillies are in baseball’s championship round.
In Week Nine, the Ravens — who previously have asked not to be asked to play in Pittsburgh during prime time — face the Steelers at Heinz Field.
In Week 10, the Patriots come to New Jersey for a showdown with the Jets. Fred Gaudelli and company can leave their stuff at the New Meadowlands Stadium, with the Giants hosting the Eagles in Week 11.
The following week, it’s off to Kansas City for Steelers-Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium, one of the best venues in the country for pro football.
Week 13 is a very lucky one for NBC, with Colts-Patriots migrating from the usual CBS November 4:15 p.m. ET sweeps-week spot to prime time.
In Week 14, the Cowboys host the Giants. Then, the Ravens visit the Chargers one week before a Christmas night contest between the Bears and the Packers.
The finale will be determined after Week 16, in the hopes of locking down a game with clear playoff implications.
“We are pleased to have another terrific schedule for Sunday Night Football,” NBC Sports Group Chairman Dick Ebersol said in a release. “The incredible success the league has enjoyed with every television partner (ESPN, CBS, Fox, NFL Network) experiencing increases each of the last three seasons is a testament to the league focusing its entire scheduling process to maximize viewership. The NFL remains the most powerful content in the entire sports and entertainment universe.”
He’s right. And it’ll be a very good season. If there is a season.
Please, NFL and players. Give us a season.
UPDATE: A reader has pointed out and our cursory research has confirmed that the World Series conflict would come on October 23 this year, putting Colts-Saints against baseball’s title round. With no MLB teams in Indy or New Orleans, the selection makes a lot more sense.