Buffalo Bills: The NFL schedule makers simply don’t get it

(Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
(Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) /

The Buffalo Bills 2018 schedule was released. The highlight is their one Monday Night Football game, which shows a disturbing trend by NFL schedule makers.

To solve a continuing ratings problem, the NFL has changed a few of the national TV scheduling rules. However, they didn’t change the real problem, nor add freshness to national games. The business side of the NFL is trumping the decision making as always.

The NFL has been trying to combat lower ratings in recent years. The national commentary for the lower ratings range from “too good a TV experience” to political viewpoints removing fans from the market.

Regardless of your viewpoints, the NFL is still one of the most popular sports, both in person and on TV, making the NFL schedule release this past Thursday a day of excitement. For Buffalo Bills fans, they can organize their fall calendars (prepare tailgate parties). At the same time the media can do the first of many record predictions, while out-of-market fans they can look at the national schedule for their favorite teams to be showcased.

The networks typically select the games each week that they want to air. Understandably, the bigger the game, the bigger the ratings, meaning more money from advertisers. The networks obviously prefer larger fan bases, and higher profile games.

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The problem with ratings isn’t protests, or quality of the games. As bad as some of the games are late in the season, it’s virtually impossible to predict who will be good or bad come Week 10. Flexible scheduling can only help so much.

The issue is a lack of parity within the national schedule itself. The NFL primarily plays the same teams year after year, and isn’t promoting new talent.

If Peyton Manning wouldn’t have joined the Denver Broncos causing a surge in their national games, would Von Miller be the star he is now? A star worthy of showing Denver on the national stage to this day.

The NFL has to adhere to the contracts they have made with the networks. They have done well ensuring at least every team is on the national stage at least one time each year. The problem is the NFL isn’t forcing more of the young stars or good stories on the network programming. They aren’t building new reasons to watch games. They are selling themselves out for what’s comfortable and stale.

Each season is unique. The NFL doesn’t capitalize on the good stories from prior seasons. Rather, it typically tries to revert back to the old guard and hope for their hypothesized results from the year before to happen again. No way the New York Giants would go two years in a row without making the playoffs?

Well they can, and in fact they can earn a No. 2 overall pick in the draft this year. We all saw them do it as they were on national games repeatedly.

There were several great stories in 2017. One in particular was the Buffalo Bills playoff drought ending and the charitable acts by the fans towards Andy Dalton and Tyler Boyd that followed. The surprising Jacksonville Jaguars who pushed the Patriots to the limit all the way up to the AFC Championship Game was another. Or, how about the play of young quarterbacks, such as Deshaun Watson and the undefeated Jimmy Garoppolo.

Entering the 2018 season, it’s easy to promote games that feature those stories, or even take a chance on one of the multiple teams in the top of the draft that will be selecting a first-round quarterback. The NFL isn’t building new teams, stars or markets. Instead they are digging their trench with the same teams that have bored even the diehard NFL fans who would watch national games if they held any interest beyond their NFC East rivals.

As a Buffalo Bills fan, the NFL threw the Bills a cookie this year, with allowing them to host Monday Night Football against the New England Patriots. This will be the first time since 2009 the Bills will have hosted a Monday night game.

The Jaguars will get to be seen on Sunday Night Football after their playoff run. The first time in at least five years they will be featured on something other than Thursday Night Football. They will be playing on a Thursday night one time this season, giving them a surge of national TV spots with two.

The stories of last season, both good and bad, are annually forgotten come schedule time. The NFL is sticking to business, and the rating loss will be nothing more than a media topic that they could improve if they thought about the big picture.

Teams with the Most National Televised Games – 2018

6 – Dallas Cowboys

5 – Pittsburgh Steelers, Philadelphia Eagles, Green Bay Packers, Kansas City Chiefs, New Orleans Saints, Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, and New England Patriots

In 2018, the Dallas Cowboys will have one-third of their season on national TV. With a slew of others being seen five times. The only “anticipated” new team that is featured at least five times is the San Francisco 49ers.

The 49ers play in a large media market, and the networks are banking on the undefeated Jimmy Garoppolo pushing them into playoff contention. It’s a good and smart gamble, one I have no issues with. Yet one new face for the NFL is a wasted season with the games still featuring the same stale teams they have featured over and over.

Multiple playoff teams from the season before are absent from the top of the national coverage, including the AFC and NFC runners-up, Minnesota and Jacksonville. What if Jimmy Garoppolo suffers an injury? Spreading out the coverage would mitigate the off chance that mid-to-late season San Francisco games will have little impact on the standings.

Over the last five years I gathered the top teams to be featured nationally, as compared to the fewest.

Most National Televised Games 2014-2018:

31 – Dallas Cowboys

27 – Philadelphia Eagles

27 – Green Bay Packers

Least National Televised Games 2014-2018:

5 – Jacksonville Jaguars

6 – Cleveland Browns

7 – Buffalo Bills

The NFL trumps its parity as a reason the game has a level playing field for entering the playoffs. Yet this parity isn’t reflected in its marketing or exposure. Regurgitating the same players/teams each year has worn the casual fan down to the point of switching channels.

Reviewing the list and pointing to wins/losses or playoff appearances doesn’t hold weight. The Cowboys have made the same amount of playoff appearances as the Jaguars and Bills over the last five seasons.

Teams with the fewest amount of nationally televised games in 2018 (one game) are:

Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals, Indianapolis Colts, Los Angeles Chargers, Tampa Bay Bucs, Arizona Cardinals, and Cleveland Browns 

Those teams vary in market size, fan base, and even quality of quarterback. The arguments as to why a team will air more or less than another is a moot point. It’s simple: It’s business.

While this bothers me as a Bills fan who lives out of market, I can’t help but believe this unifies and strengthens the core of each fan base who only have themselves to enjoy their team in any given year.

Next: Bills: History of drafting quarterbacks in the first round

I do wish that the world would take more notice of how great Bills Mafia really is, both as a fan base and community. Instead, I will know this secret out-of-market until the Bills force their way onto the national stage like they did last year with a playoff run.