In the year-long calendar that is the NFL season, April is the most important month of those without any actual games. There’s a heightened awareness among fans, as they not only gear up for the draft at the end of the month, but also wait for the sudden dropping of a welcome bombshell: next season’s schedule.
The NFL can never set a firm date for when the schedule will come out; it’s a “you’ll have it when it’s ready” kind of release. And for every day it doesn’t come out this month, look for more fans bringing the same question to Twitter, Facebook or (shudder) Yahoo Answers: when does the NFL schedule come out?
Sure, every team already knows who their opponents for next year are, but there’s a reason fans get whipped into a frenzy waiting for the new schedule. The schedule release takes the 2017 season from abstract idea to concrete plan. It lets out-of-marketers to start preparing road trips and season-ticket holders to start planning which friends come with them on which weekends. It also gives fanbases an idea of where they stand in the pecking order, based on how many prime-time games their teams get this year.
Like the money-making geniuses they are, the NFL has managed to turn the schedule release into a huge offseason event. And since it’s a big event, it seemed only right to set some odds. So here are our odds for what teams could be playing in some of the 2017 season’s biggest marquee games.
2017 NFL Schedule Release Odds
Odds who the Patriots will play in season opener
- Kansas City Chiefs: 3/2
- Houston Texans: 3/1
- Atlanta Falcons: 8/1
- Carolina Panthers: 8/1
- Miami Dolphins: 11/1
- Field (Bills, Jets, Chargers): 16/1
Once the shock of New England’s 25-point comeback in Super Bowl LI finally wore off, the natural discussion became who the Patriots would play to open next season. Lo and behold, the Atlanta team they just conquered is scheduled to make a trip to Foxborough next season. Would the NFL make Atlanta sit front row to watch the unveiling of a banner they gifted to New England? Not likely, according to recent reports.
If Peter King’s chatter is true, and the Falcons are out, then it doesn’t leave many great options for football fans. New England is already so dominant at home that few teams can hang with them. Because the last ten kickoff games have always involved playoff teams from the previous year (except in 2011 when the division rival Cowboys played the Giants), that really only leaves the Chiefs and Texans as potential opponents.
Had Houston gone out and added Tony Romo this offseason, we’d have a no-brainer opener. But this is essentially the same Texans team that lost in New England in last year’s Divisional round, 34-16: a great defense with huge questions at quarterback. The Chiefs aren’t the sexy team (which is probably their motto these days); but they’ll keep it a game.
Odds who the Lions will play on Thanksgiving
- Green Bay Packers: 7/3
- Pittsburgh Steelers: 5/2
- Atlanta Falcons: 5/1
- Carolina Panthers: 7/1
- Arizona Cardinals: 10/1
- Field (Bears, Browns, Vikings): 20/1
Detroit on Thanksgiving: a.k.a, the game you pretend to care about so you don’t have to get up and greet every relative that arrives. Coming off a surprising playoff season (considering how average a team the Lions were), Detroit has a ton of intriguing home games that could be thrust into the national spotlight.
They could play the defending NFC Champion Falcons, the always exciting Cam Newton-led Panthers, or take on the Steelers and guarantee a week of NFL Network replaying the famous Jerome Bettis coin toss from 1998.
But the most likely opponent is the Packers. These two rivals played every other Thanksgiving from 2007 to 2013, and they’re probably due to get back at it.
Odds who the Cowboys will play on Thanksgiving
- Philadelphia Eagles: 11/4
- Seattle Seahawks: 7/2
- Green Bay Packers: 4/1
- Kansas City Chiefs: 13/2
- New York Giants: 7/1
- Field (Chargers, Rams, Redskins): 15/1
You can already slot one Giants-Cowboys game in for Sunday Night: will the other come on Thanksgiving? CBS has the Cowboys’ Thanksgiving game this year, so I would imagine FOX will make a pretty strong plea for that not to happen. But Dallas has so many other big draws coming through Jerry World that almost any game would be great. (Except for the Rams. No one would have an appetite after watching them.)
There’s plenty of fun to be had in a game against the Seahawks, Eagles or the former Dallas Texans (the Chiefs). The one game Cowboys fans probably don’t want is a rematch against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, after the heartbreaking playoff loss of last season. But if Green Bay isn’t playing Detroit, the odds are pretty good they’ll be in this game. If I was a Packer, I wouldn’t make any Thanksgiving plans.
Odds which opponents will play on Christmas Day
- Dallas vs Washington: 12/1
- Baltimore vs Pittsburgh: 13/1
- Philadelphia vs New York Giants: 15/1
- Kansas City vs Oakland: 17/1
- Minnesota vs Green Bay: 20/1
- Arizona vs Seattle: 24/1
- New Orleans vs Atlanta: 24/1
With Christmas falling on a Monday this year, it’s still unclear whether the NFL will have just one game, or avoid a Sunday Night Christmas Eve affair and double up on games like they did back in 2006. Whatever they decide, we know that, this late in the year, in time slots that can’t flex games in, the NFL loves to roll with reliable divisional matchups.
In a spot like this, any one of the league’s best rivalries could take center stage. We could have a rematch of last year’s AFC North-deciding Christmas thriller, or yet another NFC East battle under the lights. There are so many possibilities.
Odds which teams will be scheduled for five prime-time games
- Dallas Cowboys: 1/99
- New York Giants: 1/50
- Green Bay Packers: 1/10
- Seattle Seahawks: 1/8
- New England Patriots: 1/7
- Pittsburgh Steelers: 1/3
- Atlanta Falcons: 2/3
- Washington Redskins: 1/1
- Oakland Raiders: 6/5
- Denver Broncos: 3/2
- Houston Texans: 3/2
- Kansas City Chiefs: 2/1
- Baltimore Ravens: 2/1
- New York Jets: 18/1
The maximum number of prime-time games is actually six, but schedule makers will leave even the biggest markets short of that number so that they can be options for flex-scheduling later in the season. A few teams are near guarantees to hit five, no matter how poor they were the season before: the fact that the Giants and Cowboys are both coming off playoff years makes them triple locks to hit five appearances.
Other staples for five appearances include the Packers, Seahawks and Steelers. The defending champs should hit that mark too, but like we addressed earlier, it can be hard to find compelling matchups for a team that is simply heads above the rest. Beyond that, the Falcons and their fancy new stadium should hit the mark, and Washington, helped by its sexier division rivals no doubt, will come close.
Things will get interesting when it comes to the Raiders. A historical franchise that is trending back towards greatness should be something the NFL wants to parade in front of viewers. But the awkward situation caused by the team’s impending relocation could make showing home games in Oakland a risk the league doesn’t want to take. Outside of a “home game” in Mexico City, the rest of the Raiders’ prime-time games may be on the road.