Broadcasting Exec Mike North Says Prime-Time Games Are a Reward; Jets Were in the Mix for ESPN’s Week 2 Doubleheader Jack Bell
The Jets are not yet ready for prime time, according to the NFL's 2022 regular-season schedule.
That is what Mike North, the NFL's vice president of broadcast planning, told Eric Allen on the newest edition of "The Official Jets Podcast" following last week's release of the full 272-game slate. North said that the schedule went through more than 100,000 computer-generated iterations -- and still came up with a single game under the lights for the Green & White.
"You play your way into prime time, you don't necessarily draft your way into prime time," North said, alluding obviously to the Jets impressive seven-player haul in late April. "We all feel like the Jets got better in the draft. And believe me, there's nothing better for the league than to have both New York teams competitive, relevant and delivering eyeballs on a Sunday afternoon or Monday night. That was not a conscious effort on the league office's part. We didn't say the Jets get a maximum one prime-time game. They probably didn't warrant a Sunday night, but they were in the mix for ESPN's Monday night doubleheader [Week 2]. If it had been Jets-Pats or Bills I don't think our friends at Disney would have complained."
Disney owns ESPN and ABC. Buffalo will host the Titans in the 7:15 p.m. opener, with the Eagles hosting the Vikings at 8:30 on ABC on Sept. 12.
"We don't root for anybody," North added. "It's good for the NFL to have the Jets and the Giants with winning records and in playoff contention, bring prime-time exposure. But hey, let's remember this conversation in a few years when the Jets are playing prime-time games, on Christmas and holidays and saying, 'give us a break.'"
The Jets, coming off last season's 4-13 record have been slotted for a single evening game, against visiting Jacksonville on Thursday night Dec. 22. The Green & White will also play 13 games that have the kickoff time of Sunday at 1 p.m. Eastern. They play one game in the Mountain time zone (at Denver, 4:05 p.m., Oct. 23) and one in the Pacific time zone (at Seattle, 4:05 p.m. on New Year's Day). The final regular-season game (at Miami on either Jan. 7 or Jan. 8) is part of the league's flex plan.
"This thing isn't about making everyone happy," North said. "It's about disappointing everyone equally. And that's kind of what happened. Nobody's too high and nobody's too low."
He added: "I haven't heard too much from the Jets, they're obviously in our backyard so we speak with them regularly. I had a sense of what they were looking for this season, but the record dictates most of TV. What it comes down to is travel, your home opener, a Thursday night home game. Most teams are focused on opening at home and catching a Thursday game at home because it's a short week. The Jets checked the boxes on home opener and Thursday night."
The Jets' schedule does have its share of oddities.
Right from the start, when the Jets host Baltimore at MetLife Stadium on Sept. 11, fans will become familiar -- like it or not -- with the four quality teams in the AFC North. After facing the Ravens, the Jets will complete a run through the division with games at Cleveland, vs. Cincinnati and at Pittsburgh. That has not happened for the Jets since 1970, when the AFL/NFL merger was completed.
"I wouldn't bet it's unprecedented to open with your first four without a division opponent, but I'd also not be surprised if it is the first time it's happened," North said. "We try to spread the games around. I don't think the Jets would want their first 4-5 opponents or last 4-5 to be division opponents. We had it last year with the NFC East and a lot of matchups in December and January. We hoped it was going to go down to the wire, but it didn't pan out."
The Week 2 game at the Browns presents a bit more uncertainty because Cleveland's new quarterback Deshaun Watson could still be subject to discipline imposed by the league, in conjunction with the players association.
Basically, North said that of the more than 100,000 possible schedules run by the league's data analysts, the one the Jets ended up with might have some quirks, but quirks happen.
Perhaps the most puzzling quirk is how the Jets' schedule shakes out against the team's AFC East opponents. They play their three division foes at MetLife Stadium - the Dolphins Oct. 9, the Patriots Oct. 30 and the Bills Nov. 6. Then they get their Week 10 bye. Then they finish up their division home-and-home with three away games - at the Patriots Nov. 20, at the Bills Dec. 11 and at the Dolphins in the Jan. 7 or 8 season finale. That has not happened before, and since 2002, under the NFL's current divisional structure, the Jets have not had an AFC East schedule finish up with three road games after their bye.
"For a team like the Jets, I think for all the teams in that division, they're all cold-weather, outdoor stadiums," North said, referring to the Pats and Bills more than the 'Fins. "So it will be cold at home or cold on the road. We might want to look at Minnesota and Detroit, two domed teams, deal with having to go on the road to Green Bay and Chicago. Or asking the Dolphins to go on the road to all three cold-weather division road games in the second half of the season. Is this unprecedented? Probably not. I'm not sure it's competitively unfair. It's probably another one of those oddities. There's nothing intentional and if it's truly unfair, we'll try to look at it in the future."
With four months to go before the start of the season, all this TV talk is ... well ... talk.
As head coach Robert Saleh has said: "It's about closing this gap in the division and getting to a place where we are competitive every single game." He added: "Really, the idea of closing the gap isn't necessarily trying to combat what they have, it's trying to get better with what we have, adding pieces, adding players, developing those players."
In other words, you got to play the games, regardless the foe, regardless the time, regardless the day.