NFL exec explains why Detroit Lions only team without a primetime game: ‘It looks odd’

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Lions are the only NFL team that will not play a game in primetime this fall, the second time in three seasons they do not have a Thursday, Sunday or Monday night game on their schedule.

And while one prominent league executive admits that “looks odd,” he insisted the Lions’ TV snub was simply a function of how the final schedule came out.

“Unattractive’s not the right word,” NFL broadcasting vice president Mike North said Friday. “Somewhere in the 119,000 schedules that we looked at, was Detroit on the Monday Night Football schedule? Absolutely, yes. They played last year. I think they played the Packers last year on Monday night. The answer to that question is absolutely yes (we considered giving the Lions a primetime game).”

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The Lions, coming off a 3-13-1 season, are scheduled to play 14 of their 17 games at 1 p.m. on Sundays this fall.

They host the Buffalo Bills in their annual 12:30 p.m. Thanksgiving kickoff, have a 1 p.m. Saturday game against the Carolina Panthers on Christmas Eve, and the time and date of their Week 18 game — like every game in the final week of the regular season — is to be determined.

North said the league puts precedence on national TV broadcast windows over primetime games, and he praised the “frisky” Lions’ ability to give “a lot of good teams a lot of good games” last year.

The early Thanksgiving window, he said, is typically “the No. 2 or No. 3 most-watched NFL game” every season.

“So there’s no hesitation to put the Lions in a national window like that,” he said. “Having them on Thanksgiving, you could certainly make a pretty compelling argument they’re going to get a lot more eyeballs for that one than they would have if they had one kind of standalone Monday night game or one kind of standalone Thursday game.

“So I acknowledge that it looks odd to have them not in primetime, quote-unquote, but they’re going to be playing in one of the five most-watched football games this season. That’s pretty good, too.”

The Lions’ lack of primetime appeal — they lost a Monday night game at Green Bay in Week 2 last season, their only primetime game since 2019 — is related mostly to their performance on the field.

The Lions have finished in last place in the NFC North each of the past four seasons and have not made the playoffs since 2016. They also have a roster largely devoid of superstar talent and have the fifth-worst strength of schedule in the league.

Thirteen NFL teams have the maximum five primetime games this fall. Eleven of those teams made the playoffs last season, and all but one, the Denver Broncos, had a winning record, Denver made arguably the biggest splash of the offseason by trading for quarterback Russell Wilson.

The NFL has flexible scheduling in Weeks 5-15 and 17, so some Sunday night matchups could change.

“We always talk about playing your way into primetime,” North said. “You don’t draft your way into primetime, you don’t trade your way into primetime, you play your way into primetime.”

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As for the Lions’ lone national TV appearance, North said the league decided relatively early in the scheduling process to send the Bills to Detroit for Thanksgiving.

Buffalo, one of the AFC’s most prominent Super Bowl contenders this season, went 11-6 last year, has a star quarterback in Josh Allen and lost in an overtime playoff thriller to the Kansas City Chiefs.

North said CBS, which owns the AFC TV package and broadcasts the Lions’ Thanksgiving game this fall, submitted its game requests to the NFL at the Super Bowl and said at the time it was “all in” on Buffalo.

Having the Bills in a national TV window on Thanksgiving also allowed the NFL to place an appealing Buffalo-New England matchup on Thursday night football the following week for the league’s new broadcast partner, Amazon.

“What it ends up being is again, getting maximum value for each of these scheduling opportunities,” North said. “There’s only so many crossflexes (where a Fox game can move to CBS, or a CBS game to Fox), and the question for us is always, is it worth it? Are we getting maximum value if we were going to get a Chicago-Detroit, a Green Bay-Detroit, a Minny-Detroit, a Philly-Detroit (to broadcast on CBS on Thanksgiving)? Were any of those games going to do any better than Buffalo-Detroit? Were our fans going to be any more interested in watching that game instead of this game?

“And we decided, honestly, pretty early in the process that Josh Allen on Thanksgiving, the Bills on Thanksgiivng, they’ve been there recently quite a bit on the road, I’m sure they’ll remind us of that next year, but they’ve performed well. They’ve won and they’ve delivered good viewership.”

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. 

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