While we all love the NFL, everyone has their own opinion about how the “league” has been run over the last decade. However, the one undeniable fact about the NFL is that their all of their moves are deliberate, thoroughly planned out, and purposeful. Suspensions, fines, and, yes, even the yearly preseason and regular season schedules are masterfully and painstakingly compiled to give us, the fans, the most entertainment; and, consequently make the NFL the most money. Naturally, from an analytical perspective, that means that we should be able to “read” how the NFL feels about a team, based on a number of variables.
One thing that the NFL does not have control over, at least currently, is who each team will play each season. Those matchups are predetermined, for the most part, with only two games per year left the chance (i.e. based on final divisional standings). So, what can we tell… ?
In years past, the St. Louis Rams had been slotted indefinitely to play at 12:00 PM CT, rarely getting national TV time within the major cluster of opening Sunday games. Naturally, if you believe that a team’s primary goal at the end of the season is to finish outside of the Bottom 5 in the NFL, you are not going to bore a national audience with their presence. This season, the St. Louis Rams will not only get a Thursday Night Football game, which every team in the NFL gets, but also a Monday Night Football game; against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 8. Moving to prime time is the first indication of a team “on the rise.”
However, Thursday and Monday night games are not the only “sweet spot” on the NFL schedule. The 3:25 PM and 7:25 PM CT games are also coveted slots, since fewer teams play at those times. On average, there are only 4-5 “late games,” which increases the probability of national coverage, as well as expanding views around the area where the game if being player. For example, if Pittsburgh and Cleveland are playing at the same time, the regional areas that each game is broadcast will be limited to that particular city. However, if they are playing at different times, chances are that people in Pittsburgh will all be shown the Cleveland game, and visa versa. This season, the St. Louis Rams have four of those games, on top of the Thursday and Monday night matchups.
Finally, the NFL puts a ton of thought into the last game of the regular season. These are often the highest rated, in terms of viewers, games of the regular season, as most teams, if not all, have a vested interest in the winners and losers of Week 17. For the juggernauts of the league, those games might determine seeding in the playoffs, marking who they will have to take on in the first or second round. For fringe teams, the last game of the season could be the determining factor on whether they will be watching the playoffs from their couch or actually playing on the field. For mid-range teams, that last game might determine your spot in the NFL draft, with a single win or loss moving you up or down the board by four to six spots. Even for bottom dwellers, the final week of the season could be your last hope at revenge, getting the chance to spoil a playoff team’s seeding or even knock them out of contention.
The point is, the final game is important. And, for the third time in four seasons, the St. Louis Rams will end with the Seattle Seahawks. Since 2010, the season in which the Rams and Seahawks played the Week 17 “regular season playoff” game where the winner was going to be handed the crown to the NFC West, the NFL has made a shift in scheduling to make every team’s final game against a division rival. With the Seattle Seahawks being touted by some as the “favorite” in 2013, it should be telling that the ‘Hawks are playing the Rams, and not… lets say, the San Francisco 49ers. Had it not been for the loss to the Minnesota Vikings last year, the 2012 matchup against the Seahawks would have had major playoff implications, especially if Seattle had not been on their three-game, 50-point average streak. This season, the NFC West is being hyped to be the most dominate division in the league. My assumption would be that the NFL is banking on this game, which is “officially” the final game on the schedule, to finish the season with a BANG!
In conclusion, one could infer from the schedule that the NFL believes that the St. Louis Rams will be much more competitive in 2013 than they have been in year’s past. The Jacksonville Jaguars, a team that appears to be on the verge of rebuilding, was given the only three “evening” game, all of which appear to be the result of cross country traveling. Their mandated Thursday Night game is against the Texans in the latter half of the season, and they will not play at all on Monday Night Football. No, the St. Louis Rams are still not getting a “prime time” packed schedule like the New England Patriots, but the league has shown at least some confidence in St. Louis to put on a good show… and, hopefully, they will!