DRUM ROLL, please.
Never missing an opportunity to hype the brand, the National Football League will announce the league-wide schedule for the 2022 season tonight.
Intended to be the biggest moment since the start of this year’s NFL Draft two weeks ago, the announcement will be nationally televised on NFL Network, ESPN2, ESPN+ and fuboTV, starting at 6 p.m. MDT—that’s 8 p.m., prime time, in the East.
In Broncos Country, this means fans finally will learn when, where and against whom Russell Wilson will wear orange and blue for the first time in a game that counts.
And if that’s somewhere on the road, when and against whom he’ll debut on the Mile High at Empower Field turf.
We already know some things. Opponents, for example.
At home, the Broncos will play Indianapolis, Houston, the Jets, Arizona, San Francisco and the AFC West rivals: the Chiefs, Raiders and Chargers.
And road games will be at Baltimore, Carolina (Charlotte), Seattle, Los Angeles (both Chargers and defending Super Bowl champ Rams), Nashville, Kansas City, Las Vegas and vs. Jacksonville IN LONDON on October 30 (kickoff at 7:30 a.m. in Denver).
That last one is already public knowledge because last week the NFL announced with separate fanfare its “International Series”—games to be played in Munich, London and Mexico City.
With the list of opponents, we also know Denver’s relative strength of schedule and that, based on last year’s final records, it ranks in the middle of the league at 15th. Fourteen are tougher and 17 are easier—if you judge solely on last year’s records.
We all know there are other factors that determine the actual difficulty of a team’s schedule. There are all the off-season activities: coaching changes . . . trades and free agent signings . . . and the college draft.
Another, not to be underestimated, is travel.
The Broncos would rack up almost 25,000 Frequent Flyer miles if they traveled commercial instead of charter to their nine road games in the upcoming regular season. Their body clocks will have to adjust to four time zones the nine times they’re away from Colorado.
The biggest of these, of course, is London (9,344 miles, round trip), where the time difference is seven hours. Ask anyone who travels abroad about jet lag.
Which brings me to the schedule to be released tonight. There’s a lot more than just which dates to circle on that calendar on the refrigerator, especially if you have season tickets.
Here are some things to look for:
Where on the schedule do the two East Coast trips fall? (Two time zones away)
When does Russell Wilson return to Seattle? (One time zone different)
When do the Broncos play the Chiefs, Raiders, Chargers—and those Rams? (All also in another time zone)
What precedes and follows that trip to London? How many days between games either side of that trip across the Atlantic? Home games or more travel?
There are a couple ways to look at the Jaguars game at Wembley Stadium.
From President/CEO Joe Ellis to General Manager George Paton to new Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett, the Broncos are publicly embracing the NFL line.
“It’s good for branding purposes,” Ellis was quoted in the club press release, “but it’s also good for the team. It brings the team together.”
“It’s a great honor for the Denver Broncos to be selected by the NFL to play in London as part of its International Series,” said Paton. “Broncos Country is everywhere and the best way to grow our game—and reach fans all over the world—is by playing internationally.”
While spinning it positively, Hackett also pointed out that going to London “is about a business trip.”
“ . . . we are in London,” he was quoted, “so you want to be excited about that, and it’s an amazing place, and you want the guys to be able to experience that. But at the same time, understand, we’ve got to go win a football game out there.”
And in that regard, I think playing in London instead of Jacksonville makes it a more difficult assignment.
The Jaguars will be playing in the United Kingdom for the NINTH time, and at the owners meetings in Palm Beach, Florida in late March, they voted to allow them to play one home game in London each year through 2024. Does this give a bad team an advantage?
No franchise has more experience playing outside the United States than Jacksonville, and no team has benefitted more, record-wise. The Jaguars have a .263 winning percentage—36-101—in games not played in Britain, but they’re a .500 club (4-4) there.
There are many possible explanations for this disparity, but the one I think most credible is that, by making the trek year after year, this organization has figured out how to manage more effectively the disruptions and distractions that such a journey presents than their opponents, for whom a trip abroad is truly an aberration in the schedule.
If there’s a bright side to this business, I guess it’s that the NFL hasn’t sold out to China the way the NBA has. At least, not yet.
Denny Dressman is a veteran of 43 years in the newspaper business, including 25 at the Rocky Mountain News, where he began as executive sports editor. He is the author of 14 books, eight of them sports-related. You can write to Denny at email@example.com.