Thu May 13 1:29am ET
By JOE REEDY
AP Sports Writer
In this Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015 file photo, NFL Logo is seen on the goal post padding before an NFL preseason football game between the Detroit Lions and the New York Jets at Ford Field in Detroit. The process of building the NFL schedule used to be a painstaking one with executives like Val Pinchbeck spending months slotting the games one by one on his board until there was a final product for the commissioner to approve. Making late tweaks or looking at alternative options with a big game moving from early to late in the season weren't really possible for all the pieces of the complicated jigsaw puzzle to fit.(AP Photo/Rick Osentoski, File)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady throws against the Kansas City Chiefs during the first half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game in Tampa, Fla., in this Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, file photo. The NFL is returning to London in October and Tom Brady begins his pursuit of an eighth Super Bowl title against Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys when Tampa Bay hosts the leagues annual kickoff game on Sept. 9. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis, File)
An additional week of regular-season games will benefit NFL fans right from the start.
In order to keep an equal number of doubleheaders between CBS and Fox, the league has decided to make Week 1 a doubleheader for both networks, which is also what they do on the final week.
Blake Jones of the league's scheduling department said the success of the doubleheaders during the final week was one of the driving forces behind adding it to the opening week. It also means Fox and CBS will each have 10 doubleheaders during the season.
''It is an amazing amount of football and everyone gets four games (two each on Fox and CBS),'' Jones said. ''It is also not favoring one network over the other. Both can showcase their games and give our fans something special.''
The featured games in the 4:25 p.m. window on Sept. 12 will be Green Bay at New Orleans on Fox and Cleveland at Kansas City on NBC.
Fox has traditionally had the Week 1 doubleheader, but Fox Sports executive vice president Michael Mulvihill doesn't mind sharing the day.
''It is a fun way for the season to start. It's really a feast,'' he said.
Jones said the scheduling department did deep dives on close to 500 combinations that were run through the league servers before narrowing it down the last couple weeks. It wasn't until last Saturday evening that the final schedule was presented to Commissioner Roger Goodell and signed off on.
The final schedule this season was number 102,846 from Server 2020Controller03-4XLarge, which is based somewhere in Europe. Jones said the league announcing a schedule release date in advance created some pressure, but nothing extra compared to previous years.
''It is healthy, realistic pressure. We haven't announced a date in previous years, but we have been working under target days for so many years,'' he said. ''We had been talking about when the extra game was going to be added for a few years so we already had the framework and were able to hit the ground running.''
Here are other takeaways from the networks about their packages:
GRAND OPENINGS (AGAIN)
Los Angeles' SoFi Stadium and Las Vegas' Allegiant Stadium were in the spotlight when they opened last season, but both will get star billing again with fans finally being allowed in the buildings.
The Rams opener against Chicago is the NBC Sunday night game on Week 1 while the Raiders will host Baltimore to kick off this season's ''Monday Night Football'' package on ESPN and ABC.
ESPN executive vice president of programming Burke Magnus said they requested giving Vegas another chance to have a proper opener.
''To put Baltimore there with Lamar Jackson, that's two good teams and we get a chance to showcase Vegas,'' he said.
The SoFi showcase also gives NBC a prime opportunity to promote itself as the Super Bowl network since the season will end in Los Angeles on Feb. 13, 2022.
THE RODGERS COMMUNDRUM
Green Bay will be featured on Fox 11 times - including Christmas Day against Cleveland - along with two Sunday night games on NBC and a Monday night appearance. Whether or not that includes Aaron Rodgers as the Packers quarterback remains to be seen.
If the reigning NFL MVP is traded, Mulvihill said Fox has the ability to adjust the number of times the Packers are featured by adjusting doubleheaders or moving around kickoff times.
''The Packers are an important brand for us and the best outcome would be the reigning MVP back in Lambeau Field,'' he said. ''We had to move around some things last year when the NFC East teams struggled. We are pretty insulated and in position to keep that 4:25 p.m. window good.''
Besides Week 1 and Christmas Day, Green Bay is Fox's featured game on Nov. 7 when it visits Kansas City.
Jones said there were discussions about Rodgers future in Green Bay when reports first surfaced during the draft and that they were prepared for any last-minute changes had they occurred the last two weeks.
THE GEM GAME
NBC was the winner of Tom Brady's return to Foxborough and the most anticipated matchup of the regular season. ''Sunday Night Football'' will have Tampa Bay's trip to New England on Oct. 4, which is one of three scheduled appearances by the defending champions.
''This is going to be the most anticipated game in a long time. That is the one we really wanted. Everything we got after that is gravy,'' said Fred Gaudelli, the executive producer of ''Sunday Night Football''.
NBC will close the regular season with six straight division matchups, which hopefully should bolster the schedule during the second half and create more compelling matchups with playoff spots on the line.
MORE MONDAY DIVISION MATCHUPS
''Monday Night Football'' will have eight games that are divisional matchups. That includes three in the first five weeks and four in the final five weeks, including the Browns and Steelers on Jan. 3.
ESPN and ABC will get two Saturday games to kick off Week 18 on Jan. 8, which will be determined by the time Cleveland and Pittsburgh kick off.
''We have all the playoff teams and seven games feature both teams that were above .500 last eason. If you break it down, this schedule is better than past years in every data point,'' Magnus said.
CHIEFS ANCHOR CBS
Two-time defending AFC champion Kansas City are on CBS 10 times, with seven appearances being in the early 1 p.m. window.
The Chiefs will be in the network's late window two times in the final three weeks - Dec. 26 against Pittsburgh and Jan. 9 vs. Denver.
CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus is also pleased that they were able to get Dallas' visit to New England on Oct. 17 as well as Chicago at Tampa Bay the following week.
''I couldn't be more pleased. I think this is the best schedule we have had in recent memory,'' McManus said. ''Cleveland-Kansas City is a good divisional playoff rematch and the day starts off strong with Pittsburgh-Buffalo.''
BACK TO OHIO
Considering that the September Thursday night games that are aired only on NFL Network are usually some of the least appealing matchups, Mark Quenzel was pretty happy with the early slate.
The New York Giants face Washington in Week 2 (Sept. 16) with Trevor Lawrence and Jacksonville traveling to Cincinnati to face Joe Burrow's Bengals two weeks later. It will also be a bit of a homecoming for Jaguars coach Urban Meyer, who led Ohio State to a national championship and also attended the University of Cincinnati.
''It will be a great story with the last two number one picks and Urban Meyer returning to Ohio,'' said Quenzel, the senior vice president and head of content with NFL Network.
NFL Network and Fox are teaming up for one last season of Thursday nights before they move to Amazon exclusively next season.
The Baltimore Ravens announced on Wednesday that first-round wide receiver Rashod Bateman signed his rookie deal. The Ravens took Bateman at No. 27 overall with a clear need for receiving help the last several seasons. The Minnesota product has the ability to play all over the field and could become Baltimore's top wideout in his first season alongside Marquise Brown, veteran Sammy Watkins and Miles Boykin. There is opportunity for Bateman to make some noise in fantasy in his rookie season, but fantasy managers should temper expectations in this run-first offense. The Ravens have targeted pass-catchers just 393 times in the last two years, a number that four teams topped in 2020 alone. Tight end Mark Andrews will also remain in the mix as one of quarterback Lamar Jackson's favorite targets.
Detroit Lions offensive tackle Penei Sewell, the No. 7 overall pick in this year's NFL draft, will miss rookie minicamp this weekend after he tested positive for COVID-19 last weekend. Sewell is expected to start at right tackle on the Lions offensive line, which has become a strength of this roster, in his rookie season. Despite sitting out the 2020 college season due to COVID-19, Sewell was a top-10 pick in the draft. The Oregon product was the highest-ranked offensive tackle in this year's draft and stands at 6-foot-6 and 331 pounds. Sewell will add more physicality to Detroit's offensive line, and his selection in the first round is great news for running back D'Andre Swift and new quarterback Jared Goff.
Philadelphia Eagles running back Kerryon Johnson, who was waived by the Detroit Lions last Thursday, said he expects to compete for carries in his new backfield. The 23-year-old was a second-round pick out of Auburn in 2018. Knee injuries slowed him in his first two seasons, and he settled for a limited role last year. The Eagles have Miles Sanders, Boston Scott and Jordan Howard returning from the 2020 season. They also added Kenny Gainwell in the fifth round of the draft and have Jason Huntley, Adrian Killins and Elijah Holyfield battling for roster spots. If Philly carries four RBs on the active roster, it could come down to Howard or Johnson. Johnson has versatility as a pass-catcher and pass-protector, but he'll likely be competing for a limited role behind Sanders and Scott, leaving him little fantasy upside in this crowded backfield.
The New York Jets are working out veteran free-agent wide receiver Tavon Austin on Wednesday, according to a source. Austin played for the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers last season, but he caught just five passes for 20 yards in four games. The 31-year-old was a bust with the Rams after they took him eighth overall in the 2013 NFL draft out of West Virginia. In five seasons with the Rams to begin his career, Austin caught 194 passes for 1,689 yards and 12 touchdowns in 75 games (50 starts). In 2018 and 2019 with the Dallas Cowboys, he had 21 receptions (37 targets) for 317 yards and three scores. Even if he lands with Gang Green, don't expect Austin to have much of an offensive role.
The Arizona Cardinals have given linebacker Jordan Hicks permission to seek a trade, according to a source. The Cardinals selected linebacker Zaven Collins with the 16th overall pick in the first round of this year's draft, and he will be the starting Mike linebacker in his rookie season. Hicks took a $3 million pay cut and will now make $2 million in base salary with a chance to make $1 million in 2021. It's possible that he'll remain with the team as a reserve linebacker, but first he'll gauge the market. Hicks also has $2 million available this season in playing-time incentives. The 28-year-old signed with Arizona in 2019, and he finished with 118 tackles and four passes defensed last season.
Arizona Cardinals LB Jordan Hicks has received permission to seek a trade after the team selected LB Zaven Collins at No. 16 overall in the NFL draft.
The Cleveland Browns claimed kicker Chase McLaughlin off waivers from the New York Jets on Tuesday. Kicker Matt McCrane was released in a corresponding move. McLaughlin made four of his five field-goal kicks last year with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Jets. The 25-year-old will join Cody Parkey on the kicking depth chart in Cleveland and will be expected to compete with Parkey for the starting gig to begin the season. Parkey wasn't all that bad last season, but he did miss extra points in three of the team's final four regular season games and wasn't exactly clutch. So if McLaughlin comes into training camp and impresses, he could win the job over Parkey. This is a situation you'll want to avoid in fantasy.
Former Dallas Cowboys starting defensive lineman Antwaun Woods signed an undisclosed one-year deal with the Indianapolis Colts on Tuesday, according to his agent, Drew Rosenhaus. In a corresponding move, the Colts waived linebacker Anthony Butler. Woods was instrumental in the Cowboys defensive resurgence in the middle of last season when he moved into the starting lineup, but Dallas also added six defensive linemen since March. He should represent valuable defensive line depth for Indianapolis at the one-technique, nose tackle spot behind starter Grover Stewart. Woods is more of a run-stuffer than pass-rusher, and he'll be competing with the likes of Taylor Stallworth, Andrew Brown and Chris Williams for a roster spot.
Tennessee Titans RB Derrick Henry has registered a league-high 90 carries of at least 10 yards over the last two seasons - more than 11 NFL teams - according to Pro Football Focus.
Fantasy Spin: Henry has obviously benefited from a league-high 681 rush attempts over that span, but that should not take away from just how impressive of a number that is for the 247-pounder. It's fair to wonder how much longer Henry can continue handling 300-plus carries and remain this explosive, and there is reason to expect him to take a step back in 2021 after former offensive coordinator Arthur Smith left to take the head-coaching job with the Atlanta Falcons. Henry should remain in the RB1 conversation, but he may not be the force he has been in recent seasons.
Chicago Bears WR Allen Robinson has posted a league-high 47 contested catches since the start of the 2019 season, according to Pro Football Focus.
Fantasy Spin: Some of this production is a byproduct of having Mitchell Trubisky and Nick Foles as his quarterbacks over that span, but there's also no question Robinson's game involves him using his 6-foot-3, 210-pound frame and wide catch radius to make plays. With Andy Dalton or Justin Fields expected to serve as his quarterback in 2021 and perhaps beyond, Robinson should have no problem paying off as a high-end WR2 investment with WR1 upside.
Atlanta Falcons quarterbacks coach Charles London has been a staunch supporter of quarterback Matt Ryan since he joined the team. "We studied every drop-back pass, every play-action pass, everything that Matt did this past year," said London. "We thought as a staff that he was still performing at a high level. He could still do everything that was needed to do to run this offense. I look forward to working with him. He has a very unique skill-set." The Falcons committed to the 36-year-old when they restructured his deal and then didn't select a QB in the draft. On top of that, they gave him a new tight end with the fourth overall pick in Kyle Pitts. Ryan will need better protection up front from the offensive line, but he has all the weapons to be a very strong QB1 again in 2021.
Atlanta Falcons running backs coach Desmond Kitchings said that the team will have an open competition at running back after they did not add to the position through the most recent NFL draft. They finished 27th in rushing in 2020 and let Todd Gurley II, Brian Hill and Ito Smith -- their top three backs -- walk out the door. Mike Davis signed a two-year, $5.5 million deal with Atlanta in free agency after totaling 1,000 yards from scrimmage last season in Carolina. He plays the game physical and has also developed into a solid pass-catcher, so there's opportunity for him to have a feature-back role in 2021. The Falcons are also counting on former wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson to play some running back. He had a career-high 64 carries for 232 yards and a score last year with Chicago. It sounds as though the Falcons have plans to use Patterson as more than just a gadget player, but he may not have much fantasy appeal unless Davis misses time with an injury. The Falcons also retained Qadree Ollison, who played just 13 snaps in 2020.
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said after this year's NFL draft that their fifth-rounder, linebacker Cameron McGrone (knee), might miss his entire rookie season after tearing his ACL last November. "We're not really sure what the expectation of availability is for him, but we're prepared certainly to not have him available this year," Belichick said. "There are no false expectations here. He should have a good recovery and be a good player; we'll just have to see what the timing is on that." In a best-case scenario, McGrone would eventually replace Dont'a Hightower in the middle of New England's defense. McGrone is currently rehabbing his ACL injury but also tore his right ACL in high school. His lack of game action at Michigan makes him extremely risky, but Belichick and the Pats are comfortable with being patient to see if he pans out.
Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn will bring some scheme changes in his new gig after being fired by the Atlanta Falcons after an 0-5 start to the 2020 season. He has long been associated with the 4-3, Cover 3 style of defense that made him famous with the Seattle Seahawks, and it's also very similar to the scheme Rod Marinelli and Kris Richard ran for two years in Dallas. A lot of those elements will remain with Quinn, but he plans on implementing new looks as well. Quinn said the Cowboys base look would resemble more of a 3-4. Dallas spent plenty of draft capital on the defensive side of the ball in this year's draft, and first-round linebacker Micah Parsons (12th overall) should team well with DeMarcus Lawrence, Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith. Quinn's defenses in Atlanta never lived up to expectations, and while they have the talent in Dallas, time will tell whether Quinn's new tweaks will mesh well with the team's current personnel.
Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers' side has engaged in contract discussions with the Packers to a degree, and the Packers have made a significant long-term offer.
Fantasy Spin: Not much to see here. Rodgers is about the No.3 to No. 5 QB to target in fantasy.
The Green Bay Packers will bring in quarterbacks Chad Kelly and Kurt Benkert to this weekend's rookie minicamp on a tryout basis, according to sources with knowledge of the situation. Benkert went undrafted out of Virginia and spent the last three seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, mainly on the practice squad. Kelly, the nephew of Hall of Famer Jim Kelly, was taken with the final pick of the 2017 draft by the Denver Broncos, but he washed out of Denver after two seasons. He's been with the Indianapolis Colts the last two years but was released. Both players could become camp arms with upside further down the depth chart if they sign in Green Bay. Aaron Rodgers and Jordan Love, last year's first-round pick, are the only signal-callers currently on the roster.
Houston Texans general manager Nick Caserio said there is no pressure for rookie quarterback Davis Mills to perform in a hurry despite the turmoil surrounding Deshaun Watson and more than 20 lawsuits filed against him. "No different than any other player," Caserio said of the timeline of bringing along the first-year signal-caller. "Bring him in, teach him our system, teach him our terminology, take it one step at a time." It's unclear what will happen with Watson as the legal proceedings play out, but the Texans weren't looking to trade him, despite his public request, before his legal issues arose. Since then, trade chatter surrounding Watson has quieted down. The three-time Pro Bowler could remain with the Texans in 2021, but wherever he's playing, he could be facing a lengthy suspension as well.
Atlanta Falcons RBs Mike Davis, Javian Hawkins, Caleb Huntley and Qadree Ollison are all expected to compete for touches in the backfield in 2021, according to comments made by running backs coach Desmond Kitchings. According to Tori McElhaney of The Athletic, Kitchens noted how competitive the running back group will be and that 'the door is wide open' for anyone to take over.
Fantasy Spin: Davis should be considered the frontrunner, but the truth of the matter is none of the backs have any proven much of anything in the NFL. Hawkins and Huntley are undrafted rookie free agents, while Ollison has totaled 24 touches across two seasons. Davis is coming off a career year in which he compiled 224 touches with the Carolina Panthers, but it was obvious he wore down as the season came to a close. Atlanta remains a likely candidate to sign a veteran free-agent runner. Short of that, expect Davis to push for 200-plus touches and Hawkins to be the primary change-of-pace back.
Detroit Lions TE Josh Hill was placed on the Reserve/Retired list Monday, May 10.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are planning to sign quarterback-turned-tight-end Tim Tebow to an undisclosed one-year deal, and it could become official in the next week or so. Tebow will have a chance to make the team and reunite with head coach Urban Meyer, who was his mentor and college head coach at the University of Florida. The 33-year-old gave up his baseball career with the New York Mets and is now giving it another go on the gridiron at a different position. The Jaguars have long been looking for a tight end, but that's unlikely to be Tebow. He last played in the NFL with the New York Jets in 2012. If Tebow were to win a roster spot out of training camp, he'd be competing with Chris Manhertz, James O'Shaughnessy and rookie Luke Farrell for playing time.