2018 NFL schedule: A heavy emphasis on good prime-time games for all three networks

When Fox spent more than $3 billion to get into the “Thursday Night Football” business, it was clear the NFL would try to give them a good schedule of Thursday night games.

The question became, would there be enough good games to go around for Thursday, Sunday and Monday nights? When the NFL’s regular-season schedule was released on Thursday night, it was clear the league did its best to ensure that NBC and ESPN were happy too.

[Check out our top 10 NFL prime-time games here.

Fox should be pleased with most of its Thursday games, NBC got a very strong slate for Sunday night, and ESPN — often chided because it has typically lagged behind in its matchups for “Monday Night Football” — got a lot of good games too. It’s clear the NFL invested heavily in its prime-time matchups, which couldn’t have been easy considering all 32 teams got at least one prime-time game.

What better way to turn around a ratings slide than to give the best games to the most-watched shows?

49 PHOTOS
NFL players who have switched teams this offseason
See Gallery
NFL players who have switched teams this offseason

QB Kirk Cousins

Former team: Washington Redskins
2018 team: Minnesota Vikings

(Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

WR Willie Snead

Former team: New Orleans Saints
2018 team: Baltimore Ravens

(Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

CB Malcolm Butler

Former team: New England Patriots
2018 team: Tennessee Titans

(Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

CB Richard Sherman

Former team: Seattle Seahawks
2018 team: San Francisco 49ers

(Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

WR Sammy Watkins

Former team: Los Angeles Rams
2018 team: Kansas City Chiefs

(Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

TE Jimmy Graham

Former team: Seattle Seahawks
2018 team: Green Bay Packers

(Photo by Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)

QB Case Keenum

Former team: Minnesota Vikings
2018 team: Denver Broncos

(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

DE Michael Bennett

Former team: Seattle Seahawks
2018 team: Philadelphia Eagles

(Photo by Otto Greule Jr /Getty Images)

QB Tyrod Taylor

Former team: Buffalo Bills
2018 team: Cleveland Browns

(Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

QB Sam Bradford

Former team: Minnesota Vikings
2018 team: Arizona Cardinals

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

WR Danny Amendola

Former team: New England Patriots
2018 team: Miami Dolphins

(Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

WR Jarvis Landry

Former team: Miami Dolphins
2018 team: Cleveland Browns

(Photo by Richard C. Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

WR Torrey Smith

Former team: Philadelphia Eagles
2018 team: Carolina Panthers

(Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

WR Paul Richardson

Former team: Seattle Seahawks
2018 team: Washington Redskins

(Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

FS Kurt Coleman

Former team: Carolina Panthers
2018 team: New Orleans Saints

(Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

DT Haloti Ngata

Former team: Detroit Lions
2018 team: Philadelphia Eagles

(Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

LB Anthony Hitchens

Former team: Dallas Cowboys
2018 team: Kansas City Chiefs

(Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

DT Star Lotulelei

Former team: Carolina Panthers
2018 team: Buffalo Bills

(Photos by Frank Mattia/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

RB Jonathan Stewart

Former team: Carolina Panthers
2018 team: New York Giants

(Photo by Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports)

RB Isaiah Crowell

Former team: Cleveland Browns
2018 team: New York Jets

(Photo by Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports)

QB Teddy Bridgewater

Former team: Minnesota Vikings
2018 team: New York Jets

(Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

DT Muhammad Wilkerson

Former team: New York Jets
2018 team: Green Bay Packers

(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

RB Dion Lewis

Former team: New England Patriots
2018 team: Tennessee Titans

(Photo by Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)

G Andrew Norwell

Former team: Carolina Panthers
2018 team: Jacksonville Jaguars

(Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

RB Carlos Hyde

Former team: San Francisco 49ers
2018 team: Cleveland Browns

(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

CB Trumaine Johnson

Former team: Los Angeles Rams
2018 team: New York Jets

(Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

CB Bashaud Breeland

Former team: Washington Redskins
2018 team: Carolina Panthers

(Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

OT Nate Solder

Former team: New England Patriots
2018 team: New York Giants

(Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

QB Trevor Siemian

Former team: Denver Broncos
2018 team: Minnesota Vikings

(Photo by Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports)

WR Jordy Nelson

Former team: Green Bay Packers
2018 team: Oakland Raiders

(Photo by Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports)

RB Doug Martin

Former team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2018 team: Oakland Raiders

(Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

CB Jason McCourty

Former team: Cleveland Browns
2018 team: New England Patriots

(Photo by: 2017 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images)

DT Dontari Poe

Former team: Atlanta Falcons
2018 team: Carolina Panthers

(Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

G Josh Sitton

Former team: Chicago Bears
2018 team: Miami Dolphins

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

C Ryan Jensen

Former team: Baltimore Ravens
2018 team: Miami Dolphins

(Photo by Todd Olszewski/Getty Images)

CB Tyrann Mathieu

Former team: Arizona Cardinals
2018 team: Houston Texans

(Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)

WR/KR/PR Cordarrelle Patterson

Former team: Oakland Raiders
2018 team: New England Patriots

(Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

G Justin Pugh

Former team: New York Giants
2018 team: Arizona Cardinals

(Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

C Mike Pouncey

Former team: Miami Dolphins
2018 team: Los Angeles Chargers

(Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

CB Orlando Scandrick

Former team: Dallas Cowboys
2018 team: Washington Redskins

(Photo by Matthew Visinsky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

DE Vinny Curry

Former team: Philadelphia Eagles
2018 team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

WR Michael Crabtree

Former team: Oakland Raiders
2018 team: Baltimore Ravens

(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

DT Sheldon Richardson

Former team: Seattle Seahawks
2018 team: Minnesota Vikings

(Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

CB/S Morgan Burnett

Former team: Green Bay Packers
2018 team: Pittsburgh Steelers

(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

WR Danny Amendola

Former team: New England Patriots
2018 team: Miami Dolphins

(Photo by Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports)

DT Ndamukong Suh

Former team: Miami Dolphins
2018 team: Los Angeles Rams

(Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

WR Brandin Cooks

Former team: New England Patriots
2018 team: Los Angeles Rams

(Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images)

WR Jordan Matthews

Former team: Buffalo Bills
2018 team: New England Patriots

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

RB C.J. Anderson

Former team: Denver Broncos
2018 team: Carolina Panthers

(Photo by Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY Sports)

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Fox gets a solid mix of Thursday night games with big-time teams

Minutes after the NFL Network’s schedule-release show started, analyst Steve Mariucci made a bold proclamation.

“This is the best [Thursday night] schedule we’ve ever had,” Mariucci, who has been a part of the “TNF” team for years, said.

That’s bold, but there’s a lot to like about the Thursday night schedule of games.

Fox’s first Thursday night game will be Week 4 between the Minnesota Vikings and Los Angeles Rams, two strong contenders in the NFC. The Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots square off Week 5, and that has extra intrigue after Josh McDaniels left the Colts hanging this offseason.

While there are some games along the way that don’t look great on paper now — Dolphins-Texans, Broncos-Cardinals among them — there are some intriguing matchups like Saints at Cowboys and Chargers at Chiefs. It’s not like “Sunday Night Football,” which gets a marquee matchup just about every week, but Fox should be pleased.

Thursday night games

Week 1: Falcons at Eagles (NBC)
Week 2: Ravens at Bengals (NFL Network)
Week 3: Jets at Browns (NFL Network)
Week 4: Vikings at Rams (Fox, NFL Network)
Week 5: Colts at Patriots (Fox, NFL Network)
Week 6: Eagles at Giants (Fox, NFL Network)
Week 7: Broncos at Cardinals (Fox, NFL Network)
Week 8: Dolphins at Texans (Fox, NFL Network)
Week 9: Raiders at 49ers (Fox, NFL Network)
Week 10: Panthers at Steelers (Fox, NFL Network)
Week 11: Packers at Seahawks (Fox, NFL Network)
Week 12: Falcons at Saints, Thanksgiving (NBC)
Week 13: Saints at Cowboys (Fox, NFL Network)
Week 14: Jaguars at Titans (Fox, NFL Network)
Week 15: Chargers at Chiefs (Fox, NFL Network)
 

NBC gets the cream of the crop again

Many, many years ago, “Monday Night Football” got the best games. When NBC got into the “Sunday Night Football” game, the NFL shifted its best matchups there.

In 2018, Sunday night is still the place to be for NFL fans. If you include the traditional Week 1 Thursday night opener between the Atlanta Falcons and Minnesota Vikings, which goes to NBC, it’s about as strong of a schedule as NBC has ever been given. The only NBC games that don’t include at least one 2017 playoff team are Bears-Packers, Giants-Cowboys, Cowboys-Texans and 49ers-Seahawks, and all of those games should be very interesting.

There are great games like Chiefs-Patriots, Saints-Vikings, Packers-Patriots, Steelers-Jaguars … let’s just say NBC did well. Again. It’s an incredible slate of Sunday night games.

Sunday night games

Week 1: Bears at Packers
Week 2: Giants at Cowboys
Week 3: Patriots at Lions
Week 4: Ravens at Steelers
Week 5: Cowboys at Texans
Week 6: Chiefs at Patriots
Week 7: Rams at 49ers
Week 8: Saints at Vikings
Week 9: Packers at Patriots
Week 10: Cowboys at Eagles
Week 11: Steelers at Jaguars
Week 12: Packers at Vikings
Week 13: 49ers at Seahawks
Week 14: Steelers at Raiders
Week 15: Eagles at Rams
Week 16: Chiefs at Seahawks
Week 17: To be determined after Week 16

19 PHOTOS
NFL players who retired over the 2018 offseason
See Gallery
NFL players who retired over the 2018 offseason

Nick Mangold, C, New York Jets

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

James Harrison, LB, New England Patriots

(Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Richie Incognito, G, Buffalo Bills

(Photo by Joshua Sarner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Gabe Ikard, C, Saints

(Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)

Emmett Cleary, T, Lions

(Photo by: 2017 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images)

Rodney Adams, WR, Indianapolis Colts

(Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

Joe Berger, G, Minnesota Vikings

(Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Danny Woodhead, RB, Baltimore Ravens

(Photo by Ron Elkman/Sports Imagery/ Getty Images)

C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE, Houston Texans

(Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

Joe Thomas, T, Cleveland Browns

(Photo by: 2017 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images)

Paul Posluszny, LB, Jacksonville Jaguars

(Photo by Logan Bowles/Getty Images)

Zach Strief, T, New Orleans Saints

(Photo by Stephen Lew/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Antonio Cromartie, CB, Indianapolis Colts

(Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Matt Forte, RB, New York Jets

(Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Donnie Jones, P, Philadelphia Eagles (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

David Harris, LB, New England Patriots

(Photo by Daniel Dunn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Carson Palmer, QB, Arizona Cardinals

(Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Dwight Freeney, DE, Indianapolis Colts

(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Vincent Jackson, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

(Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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ESPN didn’t do too bad for Monday nights, either

It has become an annual tradition to look at ESPN’s slate of Monday night games and groan a bit. Some of this season’s Monday night matchups might not turn out to be great — nobody can predict injuries, or which teams will unexpectedly struggle — but “Monday Night Football” should have a bit of its swagger back, even though we’re still not sure who will be in the broadcast booth.

“Monday Night Football” doesn’t start great, with a mediocre New York Jets-Detroit Lions matchup for the first game of its traditional Week 1 doubleheader, but a Rams-Raiders showdown in the second game is fun. That’ll be Jon Gruden’s first game back as Raiders coach, and the Rams were easily the NFL’s most interesting team this offseason.

Not every game for ESPN is great. But of its 17 games, 12 feature at least one 2017 playoff team. And of the five other games, two include the 49ers, who come into 2018 as one of the league’s hottest teams because of how they finished last season with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. ESPN got some really fun matchups like Chiefs-Broncos, 49ers-Packers, Chiefs-Rams and Saints-Panthers. Some of the matchups could turn out to be duds, but at the moment it’s one of ESPN’s best schedules.

And as for who will be calling those “Monday Night Football” games, Kurt Warner — who is reportedly under consideration to replace Gruden — said with a flourish on NFL Network’s schedule-release show that the first thing he looked up when the schedule was released was the Monday night schedule. Maybe he was letting us all know he’ll be Gruden’s replacement. Whether it’s Warner or someone else in the booth, they’ll have some good games to call.

Monday night games

Week 1: Jets at Lions, Rams at Raiders
Week 2: Seahawks at Bears
Week 3: Steelers at Buccaneers
Week 4: Chiefs at Broncos
Week 5: Redskins at Saints
Week 6: 49ers at Packers
Week 7: Giants at Falcons
Week 8: Patriots at Bills
Week 9: Titans at Cowboys
Week 10: Giants at 49ers
Week 11: Chiefs at Rams
Week 12: Titans at Texans
Week 13: Redskins at Eagles
Week 14: Vikings at Seahawks
Week 15: Saints at Panthers
Week 16: Broncos at Raiders

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Frank Schwabis a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdown.corner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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