Seven schedule hot spots

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We reported last week that the NFL plans to release the 2014 regular-season schedule on Tuesday, with the caveat that it could be nudged to Wednesday or Thursday.

Regardless of the moment the dates and times for 256 contests become known, we’ll instantly scan the list seven specific pieces of information.

1.  The Thursday Night Opener.

The Seahawks will host the first game of the season on Thursday night, September 4.  They’ll play the 49ers, Rams, Cardinals, Packers, Cowboys, Giants, Broncos, or Raiders.

I think it’ll be the Packers; PFT Planet picked the 49ers in the aftermath of the Super Bowl.

2.  The Sunday Night Opener.

The first full day of regular-season action usually is capped with a quality game on NBC.  Last year, the Giants played the Cowboys in Dallas.  The year before, Peyton Manning made his debut with Denver against the Steelers.

This year, the 49ers open a new stadium, not too far down the road from where the NBC equipment and crew will be on Thursday night.  While that would take San Fran out of the mix to open the season in Seattle, the opening Sunday night game could feature the Cardinals, Rams, Redskins, Eagles, Chiefs, Chargers, or Bears visiting the so-called Field of Jeans.

3.  The Monday Night Doubleheader.

Since 2006, ESPN has launched the season with a six-plus-hour football extravaganza.  Usually, it’s an East Coast game at 7:00 p.m. ET and a West Coaster at 10:00 p.m. ET.

These games usually have a more meat-and-potatoes feel.  Either way, it’s two more games of football to end the first week of the season.

4.  The Week Two Thursday Night Game.

With the first half of the Thursday night package simulcast in 2014 on CBS, the NFL reportedly plans to pick marquee games for the maximized audience that comes with broadcast TV.

Which means that there could be a very good game played in the first short-week contest of the season.

5.  The Thanksgiving Games.

Reportedly, the Bills will face the Lions to start the day.  (It’s either Buffalo or Miami this year, because the game will be televised by CBS.)

The Cowboys will host the second game, against one of their six NFC opponents:  the Redskins, Eagles, Giants, Cardinals, Saints, and 49ers.

The third game has no set rotation, although the Ravens have been involved for two of the last three years.  Since the nightcap moved to NBC in 2012, the third Thanksgiving game has featured division rivals, a technique that helps keep the game intense even if the records of the teams involved aren’t stellar.

6.  The Flex Games.

From Week 11 through Week 16, the NFL has the ability to swap out the games earmarked for Sunday night on NBC for better contests.  Games nevertheless are pegged for the spots in advance, and in most cases those games end up being very good games without the need for a flex.

7.  Week 17.

The last week of the season features each team playing a game in the same division.  Typically, all 16 games are played on Sunday, with no pre-set game on NBC.  Instead, the league picks the final game of the season the prior week, hopeful to select a matchup that will have clear playoff implications independent of the other 15 games.

For the last three years, the last game of the season has been the de facto NFC East championship game.  In 2011, the Cowboys lost to the Giants.  In 2012, the Cowboys lost to the Redskins.  In 2013, the Cowboys lost to the Eagles.  This year, it could be back to Giants-Cowboys.