After crunching millions of permutations over several months, the NFL spit out the finished product on Thursday night when it released its 2022 schedule.
It’s not an easy process. The NFL has to keep its five broadcast partners happy — NBC usually gets the best matchups for “Sunday Night Football,” but CBS and Fox want premier games at 4:25 p.m., ESPN wants a good slate for Monday night, and Amazon Prime wants buzzworthy matchups as it takes over the Thursday night package. The NFL also has to juggle requests from the 32 teams, like when the Patriots requested that trips to Arizona and Las Vegas be scheduled back to back.
Here are the top story lines for the 2022 schedule:
▪ Several intriguing games right off the bat in Week 1. The Kickoff Game is a terrific duel between quarterbacks Matthew Stafford of the Rams and Josh Allen of the Bills. The NFL also isn’t wasting any time sending Russell Wilson back to his old home, with the Broncos set to play in Seattle on “Monday Night Football” in Week 1.
Tom Brady and Dak Prescott will duke it out in Week 1 for the second straight season as the Buccaneers travel to Dallas. The Raiders play at the Chargers in a rematch of their unforgettable Week 18 showdown in January. The Chiefs play the Cardinals in an entertaining matchup between Patrick Mahomes and Kyler Murray. And the Browns play at the Panthers, which could be a potential revenge game for Baker Mayfield, should he land in Carolina.
▪ The Patriots got the maximum five national TV games, including four straight from Weeks 12-15, a sign that the NFL expects them to be in the thick of the playoff hunt. But the Patriots only got one 4:25 p.m. national game — Week 4 at the Packers. The Patriots have 10 games scheduled for a 1 p.m. kickoff, with Week 18 vs. Buffalo still TBD.
▪ The Patriots also have the second-worst rest differential in the NFL, per ESPN. The Patriots will have 10 fewer days of rest than their opponents, less than only the Packers (minus-13). The Cardinals will have 15 days of rest, the Bears 11 days, and the Raiders 10 days before facing the Patriots. The Patriots will also face the Jets with both teams coming off the bye, negating the advantage gained from the extra rest.
The Bills have the best rest differential in the NFL at plus-13. But the Bills will have just five or six days of rest to face the Patriots in Week 18.
▪ Brady’s return to the Buccaneers forced the NFL to scrap its schedule and start over. The Bucs will have five national TV games (Cowboys, Chiefs, Ravens, Saints, and Cardinals), one 9:30 a.m. game in Germany (Seahawks), and four more games at 4:25 p.m. (Packers, Rams, 49ers, Bengals).
Brady will be part of several marquee QB matchups, facing Prescott, Aaron Rodgers, Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, Stafford, Deshaun Watson (assuming he isn’t suspended), Joe Burrow, and Murray.
▪ Bye weeks are Weeks 6-14. The Saints, Vikings, Packers, Giants, and Jaguars are each not taking a bye following their London game, and same for the Cardinals and 49ers after their Monday night game in Mexico City. Only the Broncos coming home from London, and the Seahawks and Buccaneers coming home from Munich, will take a bye following their international games.
▪ Several great reunion games: Wilson at Seattle in Week 1; Bills pass rusher Von Miller at the Rams in Week 1; Steelers assistant coach Brian Flores vs. the Patriots in Week 2 and at the Dolphins in Week 7; Texans coach Lovie Smith at the Bears in Week 3; Carson Wentz vs. the Eagles in Week 3 and at Philadelphia in Week 10; Jaguars coach Doug Pederson at the Eagles in Week 4; Patriots assistant coach Matt Patricia vs. the Lions in Week 5; Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy at the Packers in Week 10; Eagles receiver A.J. Brown at the Titans in Week 13; Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel at the 49ers in Week 13; Watson at the Texans in Week 13; and Raiders coach Josh McDaniels vs. the Patriots in Week 15.
▪ The NFL is for the first time holding a slate of games on Christmas Day, with Packers-Dolphins at 1 p.m., Broncos-Rams at 4:30 p.m. and Buccaneers-Cardinals at 8:20 p.m. Eleven games will be held on Dec. 24.
▪ The Lions are the only team with no prime-time games. They have 15 games scheduled for Sunday at 1 p.m., a Thanksgiving game scheduled for 12:30 p.m., and TBD in Week 18.
▪ The Falcons-Panthers game on Thursday night in Week 10 will be the only prime-time game for either team. Same for the Week 16 showdown between the Jets and Jaguars.
▪ The Browns only got two prime-time games, and both come within the first eight weeks. Seems that the NFL is bracing for a suspension for Watson or simply doesn’t want to have to talk about him much on national TV.
▪ Longest trip of the year: The Seahawks traveling approximately 5,800 miles from Phoenix to Munich for back-to-back road games.
▪ The Steelers play all 17 games in the Eastern time zone. The Ravens and Browns play 16 in the Eastern and one in the Central.
▪ The Bills are hosting the Titans on “Monday Night Football” in Week 2. It’s the first time the Bills are hosting a team other than the Patriots for “MNF” since 2008. The Bills haven’t won at home on “MNF” since 1994 (0-4).
▪ This year is the last in which CBS will primarily televise AFC games and Fox will get NFC games. Starting next year, every game will be a “free agent.”
Brady to the booth, but why?
In an offseason in which Tom Brady retired, tried to join the Dolphins’ front office, un-retired, and rejoinedthe Buccaneers, Brady made the most surprising move yet this past week. Brady and Fox Sports agreed to a reported 10-year, $375-million contract that will make him the network’s No. 1 NFL analyst whenever he decides to hang up his cleats. It will make Brady the highest-paid announcer in sports broadcasting history.
A few thoughts:
▪ The immediate question: Why?
From Fox’s perspective, it appears to be a case of bruised ego. The game of announcer musical chairs this offseason sent Joe Buck and Troy Aikman to ESPN, Al Michaels to Amazon, and left Fox without a signature broadcast team. So Fox responded by going over the top to get the biggest name possible. It’s not clear if broadcasters have much of an effect on ratings, but having Brady in the booth will give Fox the big-game feel it craves.
From Brady’s perspective, I think he sees with his buddies Eli Manning, Peyton Manning, and Tony Romo how being on TV each week keeps them relevant in the public sphere and helps build their brand. Brady’s presence every Sunday will be a constant advertisement for all of the other projects and businesses he is working on, and can lead to other opportunities. The money he’s getting from Fox isn’t bad, either — $375 million over 10 years, compared with the $332 million in salary he will have made over 23 NFL seasons. Only seven NFL players, all quarterbacks, average more than $37.5 million per year in salary. But Brady’s is all guaranteed.
The TV job also gives Brady the weekly structure he needs. Even with all of the money in the world, he still has to do something with his life after football. He has operated on the same weekly schedule for the past 22 years, and having a weekly routine will help keep his life in order.
▪ The other big question: Is Brady actually going to be interesting? Brady has spent his entire career being purposefully bland, as he acknowledged last year on HBO’s “The Shop”:
“I would say 90 percent of what I say is probably not what I’m thinking, which is challenging,” he said. “I think there’s part of me that doesn’t like conflict. So in the end, I just always try to play it super flat.”
Fox isn’t paying Brady $37.5 million per year to be “super flat.” A good analyst has to be critical of players, coaches, and even Roger Goodell when warranted.
Brady can be witty and engaging on social media, but he has a team of people working for him. Last year in “The Match,” Brady didn’t show much personality or spontaneity on the golf course. If he wants to succeed as an analyst, he’ll have to work on opening up.
▪ Brady’s deal to join the Dolphins’ front office and potentially buy a chunk of the team — which was thwarted in February by Brian Flores’s unrelated lawsuit — seems dead now. But Brady’s deal with Fox does nothing to dispel rumors of Brady quarterbacking the Dolphins in 2023. He will be a free agent at the end of this season, with no strings attached to the Buccaneers. Brady is still good friends with Dolphins owners Stephen Ross and Bruce Beal, and will be free to join the Dolphins, or any other team next year (perhaps the 49ers). And even if Brady does choose Fox, there’s nothing stopping him from coming out of retirement and playing again.
Plenty of turmoil with the Raiders
According to his bio with the Raiders, Dan Ventrelle played “a key role in the organization’s most significant milestones” in his 18 years with the team. As executive vice president and general counsel, and then as interim team president, Ventrelle negotiated contracts, managed all compliance matters with the NFL, and was “instrumental” in the team’s move to Las Vegas.
All of which is to say that Raiders owner Mark Davis’s statement on May 6 was noticeably short.
“Dan Ventrelle is no longer with the Raiders organization. We will have no further comment at this time,” Davis said.
Ventrelle added more context shortly thereafter, releasing a statement through the Las Vegas Review-Journal accusing Davis of firing him over whistleblowing.
“Multiple written complaints from employees that Mark created a hostile work environment and engaged in other potential misconduct caused me grave concern,” Ventrelle said. “When Mark was confronted about these issues he was dismissive and did not demonstrate the warranted level of concern.
“Soon thereafter, I was fired in retaliation for raising these concerns. I firmly stand by my decision to elevate these issues to protect the organization and its female employees.”
Although Davis secured the Raiders’ future with the move to Vegas and a sparkling new stadium, the Raiders have had plenty of inner turmoil the last two years. Everyone knows about the Jon Gruden fiasco and the Henry Ruggs tragedy. But three top executives left the team abruptly last summer — the team president, controller, and chief financial officer — over “accounting irregularities” that stretched back more than a decade, Davis said last fall. Now Ventrelle is accusing Davis of creating a hostile work environment, ignoring the concerns presented to him, and firing a potential whistleblower. Ventrelle has hired a lawyer, and a lawsuit is likely coming. The NFL is investigating Ventrelle’s claims.
The turmoil doesn’t directly affect the Raiders’ football operation, but new coach Josh McDaniels and general manager Dave Ziegler can’t be thrilled about the upheaval as they begin their program.
Officially a ground-breaker
The NFL offseason always brings turnover to the officiating ranks. This year, eight officials retired in February, including longtime referee Tony Corrente, and the NFL added 10 new on-field officials. Among the new hires is down judge Robin DeLorenzo, the NFL’s third female official.
Another new official breaks new ground for the NFL: Lo van Pham, an engineer by day and a Big 12 official since 2015, will become the first Asian American to officiate in the NFL after he was hired as a side judge. Pham was born in Laos in 1973, and his family moved to Amarillo, Texas, when he was 7 after winning a lottery from a Catholic missionary. Pham learned English through TV and movies, and learned about American sports, particularly football, through his new friends.
“Officiating has opened a lot of doors for me,” Pham told USA Today. “It has taken me places that I never thought that I would go to. It has given me lifelong friends and lifelong experiences that I never would’ve gotten.”
Second teams in Dallas, Chicago?
The NFL has essentially run out of viable cities for relocation or expansion. London is too far. Mexico City doesn’t have the corporate infrastructure. St. Louis politicians and the NFL hate each other and won’t be doing business any time soon. Same with San Diego. Salt Lake City isn’t big enough. San Antonio and Austin infringe on the Cowboys’ and Texans’ territory. Toronto is the Bills’ territory.
But Dallas’s mayor, Eric Johnson, may have come up with an intriguing solution when he tweeted that his city deserves a second NFL team. The Dallas and Chicago markets are certainly big enough for second teams. And most importantly, an expansion team or relocated team wouldn’t have to invest in a new stadium, unlike with other cities. The Dallas team would be the Cowboys’ tenant at AT&T Stadium and the Chicago team could be the Bears’ tenant in their impending new stadium in Arlington Heights.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones doesn’t want to cede territorial rights to Austin or San Antonio, but becoming the landlord of a second team in Dallas would add millions to his bottom line and potentially billions to the value of his team. Surely he could be convinced.
A few NFL Draft prospects were not too thrilled with the Buccaneers and how they conducted business. New Vikings safety Lewis Cine, an Everett native who was drafted 32nd overall, indirectly called out the Buccaneers on Richard Sherman’s podcast. He mentioned a team picking 27th who then traded down to 33rd, which was obviously the Buccaneers. “The whole process, ‘If you’re there we’re going to pick you,’ ” Cine said. “They move down to the first pick of the second round. I’m like, ‘Damn, they did me just so dirty.’ ” But this may not have been an isolated incident, because agent Whitney Holtzman chimed in later on Wednesday. “They did the same thing to me with one of my clients,” she tweeted. “You are not alone, @LewisCine!” … Four bidders and a mystery man have emerged for the Broncos, who expect to be sold this summer. One is Rob Walton, a member of the Wal-Mart clan who is also a cousin by marriage to Rams owner Stan Kroenke. Another is Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Devils owner Josh Harris, who is a co-owner with Michael Rubin, who is tight with Robert Kraft. Another is Todd Boehly, who is purchasing Chelsea of the English Premier League. A fourth is media mogul Byron Allen, who would give the NFL its first Black owner. The Broncos were initially expected to fetch at least $3 billion, but that price tag could balloon close to $5 billion. Walton’s deep pockets and family ties to Kroenke might be tough to beat.
Ben Volin can be reached at email@example.com.