As much as the NFL schedule-makers like Peyton Manning and any matchup between two NFC East teams, no division is going to get more exposure on Monday Night Football this season than the Buccaneers’ own group of four.
The 2013 NFL schedule that was unveiled on Thursday included 48 nationally-televised prime-time games – three per week, but an extra Monday-nighter in Week One, no Thursday games in Weeks 16 or 17, no Monday night game in Week 17 and a still-to-be-scheduled Sunday night affair in Week 17). That’s 96 prime-time spots for teams to fill and, for the most part, those spots are divided pretty evenly among the eight divisions. Here are the prime-time game appearances per division so far (Sunday night games can be “flexed” into other matchups later in the year):
NFC East: 16
NFC South: 13
AFC North: 12
NFC North: 12
NFC West: 12
AFC East: 11
AFC South: 10
AFC West: 10
Besides favoring the NFC overall, that’s fairly well-distributed. The various Cowboy-Redskin-Giant matchups push the NFC East to a clear lead, with much of that concentrated on NBC’s excellent Sunday Night series. NFC East teams get eight Sunday night spots (again, often against each other); no other division gets more than five.
It’s on Monday Night Football where the South takes the lead. The Bucs, Saints, Falcons and Panthers combine to make a league-high six appearances on Monday night; moreover, that’s six different dates because none of those games are between two NFC South teams. Essentially, you’ll be watching an NFC South team on Monday Night Football one out of every three weeks. The NFC South, NFC East and NFC North are the only divisions which get all four of their teams on MNF at some point this season. The NFC South is the only division in which all four of its teams have a home Monday night game this season.
In an effort to get appealing matchups on prime time, the NFL schedule-makers must annually make some educated guesses as to which teams are on the rise. The 6-10 Jets get a Monday night date, but the 6-10 Bills do not. The 4-12 Lions make it onto MNF, but the 5-11 Cardinals do not. The fact that all four NFC South teams made the MNF list – three of whom finished 7-9 last year – is an indication that the schedule-makers know what fans of the Bucs, Falcons, Panthers and Saints have been seeing for more than a decade: The NFC South is utterly unpredictable from year to year, but often competitive from top to bottom.