Primetime Pigskin Matchups


The collegiate action kicked off last week and now Peyton and the pros will put it in play tonight. Yes, the gridiron is back and for many sports fans nothing could be finer.

But let’s get hypothetical here. Your wife/girlfriend is really stomping her heels down this season. She will indulge your pigskin Jones — but not the whole 10 yards worth. In this nightmare scenario, she’s conceding Saturdays and Sunday afternoons. However, if you want to enjoy some affection before 2008, you’re going to have to give.

Cue Ellen Foley: So, what’s it going to be boy - Sunday Night Football or Monday Night Football?

Going strictly by last year’s results, ESPN only has one game matching 2006 playoff teams, Week 13’s New England/Baltimore affair, while NBC counts 11. Gauged by this year’s’s Power Rankings, MNF fares somewhat better with four games pitting members of its top 12 squads against each other. But the initial season ranking is no home field advantage for the total sports network: SNF still counts nine such tilts.

Now for the individual matchups, which start with tonight’s season-opener, showcasing the Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts and NFC runner-up New Orleans Saints, as well as NBC’s first Sunday night contest on Sept. 9, the New York Giants at Dallas.

These go up against ESPN’s MNF twinbill on Sept. 10. The Baltimore/Cincinnati opener is strong, pitting a pair of power-ranked clubs. And the nightcap of last season’s “it” team Arizona, with now sophomore southpaw signal-caller Matt Leinert, against an improved San Francisco team, sporting NFC leading rusher Frank Gore, could be exciting. But the 10:15 p.m. (ET) kickoff is a deal-breaker for many. NBC takes two.

Week 2’s San Diego/New England contest - a playoff rematch and possible AFC championship preview – gives NBC a huge edge over MNF’s big market, NFC East rivalry of Washington at Philadelphia.

SNF’s Dallas/Chicago contest in Week 3 is the pick on paper over MNF’s Tennessee at New Orleans. But the Titans’ Vince Young and Nawlins’ Reggie Bush and Drew Brees are among the game’s most entertaining players. Get your excuses ready: these games are a small screen toss-up.

ESPN’s first outright winner comes in the fourth week. Tom Brady and Carson Palmer figure to lead a high-scoring Pats/Bengals banger, while SNF counters with Donovan McNabb and Eli Manning keying another NFC East matchup, this time between the Giants and Eagles.

The season’s fifth week is an interesting one for MNF. The Cowboys may be America’s Team, but there not mine, and Buffalo doesn’t do it for all that many.  Madden and Michaels travel with the Bears to the not-yet frozen tundra of Lambeau Field. Green Bay’s Hall of Famer Brett Favre’s in favor in this one.

NBC wins big in Week 6. The Saints at Paul Allen’s Seattle Seahawks, the Super Bowl XL losers, has it all over Giants at Atlanta on Oct. 15. The Falcons, without Michael Vick, figure to scratch fleas on MNF.

A pair of small market matchups is on tap in Week 7. The Colts versus AFC South rival Jacksonville is one of MNF’s best games, as the Jags often play Indy tough. Unless an early-season snowfall factors in, SNF’s Pittsburgh/Denver battle comes up well short here.   

ESPN adds another W the following week by default: NBC is dark in deference to the World Series. Denver’s under the lights again, this time with the Pack trekking to Invesco Field.

The second half of the season begins with Dallas invading Philly on NBC on Nov. 4, while defense should dominate in an AFC North confrontation: Baltimore knocking noggins in Pittsburgh on SNF. You can’t go wrong either way with these two.

Week 10’s all NBC. Manning and his men of Indy march on the electrifying LT in San Diego, in another possible AFC championship preview. The Niners at Shaun Alexander’s Seahawks on MNF certainly lacks luster by comparison.

During the 11th week, NBC’s flex scheduling begins. While the broadcaster can select a different contest from CBS or Fox’s slate to capitalize on hotter matchups, there our placeholder games on the NFL dance card. For purposes of this exercise, we’ll measure MNF versus the preseason SNF listings.

The Nov. 18 Bears/Seahawks is a rematch of Chicago’s 27-24 2006 divisional round victory. ESPN places second with Titans/Broncos.

Week 12 also goes NBC’s way with a replay of Super Bowl XXXIX combatants, Philly at New England. MNF pairs teams looking to relive past playoff glories, Miami at the Steelers on Nov. 24.

The 13th week is lucky for ESPN. Brady’s bunch barrels into Baltimore, a better battle than NBC’s Cincy/Steelers selection.

Week 14 could be an upset special. SNF has the Colts at Steve McNair’s Ravens. MNF doesn’t match up on paper with Saints/Falcons. But Dec. 10 is Vick’s sentencing day. It’s likely to be crazy in Hot Lanta that night.

Intramural contests loom in the 15th week. For now, the Peacock is projected to preen Dec. 16 with Skins/G-Men, an NFC East match that could be modified if both teams exhibit their expected down forms. On MNF, the Bears travel to Minnesota’s Vikings. I’d go Norsemen here.

ESPN’s closer features Denver at San Diego. Although suffering from Christmas Eve timing, the match should be fraught with playoff intrigue. Can’t imagine, we’ll be saying the same about Tampa Bay and the 49ers the night before, as NBC will likely switch this one out.

As was the case for ESPN in Week 8, SNF puts one on its side of the ledger with Kansas City at New York Jets on Dec. 30 because MNF has already closed up shop.

On this scorecard, nine matchups favor NBC’s SNF to seven for ESPN’s MNF. It’s pick-em for two other weeks.

Of course, a real man would don his replica jersey — over full pads — and slam his cleat, er tennis shoe, down into the turf. Like Robin Williams’s Jack Dundee character in The Best of Times, he’s watching all the games, no matter the price.

Better still, let’s keep this nightmare scenario purely hypothetical. The RBI hit police be damned – don’t let your significant other read this piece and get any ideas.