Rivalries Abound in CBS Thursday Night Football Slate

Inaugural prime-time package could use a little Dallas dazzle

The National Football League on Wednesday night took the wraps off its 2014 regular-season schedule, and while CBS’ inaugural Thursday Night Football slate is packed with divisional rivalries, some of the matchups are strictly from nostalgia.

Kicking off CBS’ $275 million TNF roster is the Week 2 (Sept. 11) grudge match between the AFC North’s Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens. When last these two teams met on national television, they drew 21.1 million viewers and an 11.0 household rating, down 13 percent from NBC’s full-season Sunday Night Football average (12.6).

The Ravens stole a victory from the visiting Steelers in a 22-20 squeaker that was played on Thanksgiving night.

While Turkey Day generally offers a captive audience of tryptophan-doped football fans, the two antagonists actually put up bigger numbers in an earlier late national game on CBS. Per Nielsen, the Oct. 20 Ravens-Steelers dogfight scared up 25.3 million viewers and a 14.8 HH rating.

While Pittsburgh and Baltimore had factored in four of the last eight Super Bowls, both teams in 2013 cobbled together an 8-8 record and finished out of contention for the NFL Playoffs. Then again, no matter how lousy their long-term prospects, when the two rivals lock horns, it’s always the best show in town. (In fact, 11 of their past 14 meetings have been decided by four points or fewer.)

Barring a miraculous turnaround in Atlanta and Tampa Bay, Week 3 promises to be a real stinker; at 4-12, both NFC South franchises tied for the third-worst record in the NFL. Similar underperformers mar the CBS TNF schedule—the Giants finished 7-9, Washington was a miserable 3-13, the Vikings crapped out at 5-11, and Texans were astonishingly lousy at 2-14.

For all that, the Week 8 showdown between the AFC champion Denver Broncos and the San Diego Chargers should be a real nail-biter. If you’re not averse to making the occasional speculative wager, bet the farm on this game delivering the highest ratings of the entire TNF slate.

After that Oct. 23 broadcast, CBS will take a knee until Dec. 20, when it will air a Saturday evening game. And while the NFL has yet to determine which of the two scheduled contests will play out in prime time, the safe bet’s on Chargers at 49ers over Eagles at Redskins. 

While CBS’ TNF schedule will touch down in seven of the nation’s top 10 DMAs, it will not be graced with the presence of the Dallas Cowboys. It’s a missed opportunity—last season, five of the top 10 most-watched regular season NFL games featured the star-spangled denizens of Jerry World, USA.

CBS' Thursday Night Football schedule is as follows:

Sept. 11 (Week 2): Pittsburgh at Baltimore

Sept. 18 (Week 3): Tampa Bay at Atlanta 

Sept. 25 (Week 4): N.Y. Giants at Washington    

Oct. 2 (Week 5): Minnesota at Green Bay

Oct. 9 (Week 6): Indianapolis at Houston

Oct. 16 (Week 7): N.Y. Jets at New England

Oct. 23 (Week 8): San Diego at Denver

Dec. 20 (Week 16): San Diego at San Francisco/Philadelphia at Washington

The 2014 NFL campaign kicks off on Thursday, Sept. 4, as NBC presents the “Fail Mary” rematch between the Packers and Seahawks. The Peacock’s most promising Sunday Night Football matchup would appear to be the Week 7 49ers-Denver game, while ESPN’s best bet is Pats-Chiefs in Week 4. 

Along with the CBS prime-time NFL games, here’s another new wrinkle: Afternoon events in 2014 may be flexed into Sunday Night Football slots as early as Week 5. In the past, the league’s flex scheduling did not kick in until Week 11.