At one point during a Friday media conference call regarding the 2022 schedule, NFL executive Mike North made this statement: “You don’t draft your way into prime time, you don’t trade your way into prime time. You play your way into prime time.”
The NFL apparently made an exception for the Denver Broncos. A big one.
At the end of the call, NFL executive Onnie Bose pointed out that the Broncos appear in seven stand-alone windows in 2022, with five prime-time games, an early-morning game in London, and the ratings-magnet of the middle slot on Christmas Day, at the Rams.
“Kind of an interesting level of exposure for the Broncos this year,” Bose said.
Indeed it is, given that the Broncos last played a postseason game when Peyton Manning limped into the sunset with a Lombardi Trophy under his arm.
The Broncos, contrary to North’s declaration, did not play their way into seven stand-alone windows. The NFL has made a wager that Denver’s trade for Russell Wilson will goose Denver into contender status — even as they find themselves in the toughest division in the NFL, perhaps one of the best collections of four teams the NFL has ever seen.
But the NFL has structured the slate in a way that minimizes the risk. Four of the stand-alone Denver games are in the first six weeks of the season, with two Mondays, a Sunday night, and a Thursday. The Week 14 Sunday night visit from the Chiefs can be flexed out, if necessary.
The only real risk comes from the middle spot on Christmas Day. But even if the Broncos aren’t as good as the league office apparently expects them to be, it’s a captive audience. It will deliver eyeballs and ratings. And if the NFL’s bet on the Broncos pays off, it could deliver those metrics in huge numbers.