Monday Night Football is entering a pivotal year as the venerable franchise looks to regain some of its previous luster. There are has been no shortage of personnel-related takes ascribing blame for the so-called slump but the primary factor in the success of failure of a broadcast, when a person really sits down and thinks about it, is the quality of the game being presented. Compelling matchups are absolutely essential in ensuring that any network is not playing catch-up from the outset trying to manufacture interest.
MNF has suffered this fate in recent seasons, often due to bad injury luck and having no recourse in flexing in a better matchup. Last night's NFL schedule release provided real optimism, though, that this year will be different.
The Week 3 Ravens-Chiefs contest is an incredible coup and could be the best regular season game of the year. Tom Brady and the Buccaneers make two appearances, there's an early look at the atmosphere in Las Vegas - or complete lack thereof if fans aren't allowed in - and sneaky Cardinals-Cowboys matchup in Week 6 that could be a pivotal early one.
More importantly, one of the biggest problems the franchise has faced -- the relative stinkers in December featuring teams with no playoff aspirations -- appears to have been smartly addressed. The Buffalo Bills are featured twice, including the last week of the year against the Patriots, which could be a loser-goes-home battle. The always unpredictable AFC North has all its teams in back-to-back weeks, so at least one of those will be postseason-shaping.
Best-laid plans can and do fall apart. So there's no guarantee this slate looks as solid down the road as it does right now. But ESPN definitely has to feel good about where they are this morning. They capitalized on what amounts to an unusually deep primetime talent pool this year and put themselves in the best position to succeed.