First, a quick veer to NFL news before we get to what makes Zach Wilson tick. It’s not the Deshaun Watson–Russell Wilson news, which will come later. It’s more about a strange new bit of scheduling that will impact virtually everything on the NFL calendar. In some order:
• The 17-game schedule is highly likely in 2021. No surprise there. TV partners and NFL schedulers are working under the assumption that the 17-game schedule (the way was paved for it last March when players approved a new CBA) will debut in 2021.
• The league calendar gets pushed back one week, with a likely Feb. 13 Super Bowl in Los Angeles. No extra bye—17 games in 18 weekends. Super Bowl LVI, originally scheduled for Feb. 6, 2022 and airing on NBC, has not been officially moved yet. The league hasn’t said a word about moving the game to officials in Los Angeles. But the NFL won’t start the season on the ratings-quashing Labor Day Weekend, and the league doesn’t want to add an extra regular-season bye week. So that adds up to Feb. 13, which would be the latest Super Bowl in history.
• The best game of 2021, Aaron Rodgers versus Patrick Mahomes, is on track. Really, only one game in 2021 would rival Green Bay-Kansas City. That’s Tampa Bay at New England, with Tom Brady’s return to Foxboro. Pittsburgh at Green Bay is interesting too, with the very likely last meeting of Ben Roethlisberger and Rodgers. Brady in Foxboro is great theater, of course. But Rodgers-Mahomes is a much better game, with two passers at the peak of their powers.
A note about how the league configured the extra game: When the NFL was choosing options, the formula that prevailed—follow me now—was AFC versus NFC, cross-conference matchup from two years ago, 2021 matchup based on 2020 standings. Now that you’re totally confused, here’s an example: The four AFC West teams played the four NFC North teams in 2019. In 2020, Kansas City finished in first place in the AFC West, Green Bay first in the NFC North. So in 2021, it’s AFC West against NFC North, and 1-versus-1 from ‘20 becomes Green Bay versus Kansas City. I will bet you a Kroll’s West cheeseburger with an ice-cold Spotted Cow that the networks will brawl over this ratings-gold game. This game alone is reason enough for the league to rush the 17th game onto the 2021 schedule.
• Best five games after that, assuming the 17-game slate:
- Pittsburgh v Seattle. Last two meetings have ended 39-30 and 28-26, Seattle. Ben (maybe) dueling Russ (maybe) for the last time (maybe) is sumptuous.
- Baltimore v L.A. Rams. In 2019, the high-flying Ravens put up 45 on the Rams. Matthew Stafford will have something to say about that now.
- Tampa Bay v Indianapolis. Tom Brady versus the team that chose Philip Rivers over him in 2020.
- Houston v Carolina. Imagine if Nick Caserio buckles and trades Deshaun Watson to the team that might covet him most, the Panthers.
- New England v Dallas. If it’s not a good game, at least it’ll get ratings out the wazoo.
The others: Buffalo-Washington, Miami-Giants, Philadelphia-Jets, Cleveland-Arizona, Cincinnati-San Francisco, Tennessee-New Orleans, Jacksonville-Atlanta, Las Vegas-Chicago, L.A. Chargers-Minnesota, Denver-Detroit.
• A Monday night wild-card game? I think it’s somewhere between 50-50 and very likely. Last year, the NFL wouldn’t consider playing one of six wild-card games on Monday night because it would have conflicted with the Jan. 11 college football national title game. The NFL instead played three wild-card games on Saturday and three Sunday in the 2020 season. This season, college football will play the championship game in Indianapolis on Monday night, Jan. 10, 2022. That leaves Jan. 17 as the football-free Monday night of Wild Card Weekend. So the NFL could play two games on Saturday, three on Sunday, and one on Monday. Screaming, of course, will commence about the Monday night winner playing a short-week game the following Sunday. (And the NFL would ensure that the Monday night winner would not play until Sunday of divisional weekend.) Balderdash. With three wild-card games on Saturday, six teams are sure to play a short-week game. With two wild-card games on Saturday and one on Monday, five teams are assured of a short-week game—four on Saturday and Monday’s winner, which would play the following Sunday. If I’m a coach, I’m happy after playing 17 games in 18 weeks to have an extra day of rest before a playoff game. What’s the argument against it?
• Hearing it’s most likely to be AFC hosting all 16 newly invented games in 2021. Then NFC teams hosting in 2022. If that’s how it goes, it’s the fairest way. Competitive equity is the key. You don’t want three NFC East teams playing eight at home and the fourth playing nine at home.
• Christmas football. Dec. 25 falls on a Saturday, and the NFL is considering playing two games that day. The league was encouraged by the big rating for last season’s Saints-Vikings game (20.1 million viewers on FOX, the highest non-Sunday rating for the network in more than two years), so expanding to two games seems like a good business experiment.