Storied rivalries including Giants-Cowboys, Bears-Packers on Christmas Night at Lambeau, Colts-Patriots, Steelers-Ravens, Cowboys-Eagles, Patriots-Jets and Eagles-Giants; a matchup of the last two Super Bowl Champions as the Packers host the Saints in the opening Thursday night game; and Peyton Manning returning home to New Orleans in a Super Bowl XLV rematch highlight the “Sunday Night Football” schedule as the NFL announced its 2011 slate of games today. The season concludes on NBC with Super Bowl XLVI from Indianapolis.
Highlights of the 2011 “Sunday Night Football” schedule:
Sixteen of NBC’s 17 scheduled games involve at least one playoff team from last season; 11 of 17 include two playoff teams.
The last two Super Bowl Champions, Saints and Packers, meet in the Thursday night NFL opening game.
A rematch of last year’s NFC Championship game between the Packers and Bears on Christmas Night in Green Bay, the oldest rivalry in the NFL. The only other time Bears-Packers met on Christmas Day was in 2005 with the Bears winning 24-17 at Lambeau Field.
Peyton Manning goes home to New Orleans as Saints host Colts in Week 7 in a rematch of Super Bowl XLV.
Rex Ryan’s Rivals: Meets brother Rob (Dallas defensive coordinator) and the Cowboys in Week 1 in New York on the 10th anniversary of the tragic events of September 11, 2001; Ryan faces his old team, the Ravens in Week 4; and his nemesis the Patriots in Week 10, in a rematch of last year’s AFC Divisional playoff game.
Three matchups among bitter NFC East rivals: Cowboys-Eagles, Eagles-Giants, and Giants-Cowboys.
Eagles QB Michael Vick goes back to Atlanta to face his former team for the first time as an opposing starting quarterback in Week 2.
Traditional “Sunday Night Football” rivalries: Colts-Patriots (Week 13), Ravens-Steelers (Week 9).
The first “NBC Sunday Night Football” trip to Kansas City as Chiefs host Steelers in Week 12.
DICK EBERSOL, CHAIRMAN, NBC SPORTS GROUP: “We are pleased to have another terrific schedule for ‘Sunday Night Football.’ The incredible success the league has enjoyed with every television partner (ESPN, CBS, Fox, NFL Network) experiencing increases each of the last three seasons is a testament to the league focusing its entire scheduling process to maximize viewership. The NFL remains the most powerful content in the entire sports and entertainment universe.”
SNF DOMINATED SUNDAY NIGHTS: Last season, “Sunday Night Football” was the No. 1 show all 18 nights (100 percent) vs. its competition (16 Sundays, one Tuesday and one Thursday). In 2009, SNF was the most-watched Sunday night primetime broadcast in a then-record 15 of 16 (94 percent) weeks. In 2008, SNF won 13 of 16 (81 percent) Sunday nights. In 2007, SNF won 11 of 16 (69 percent) and, in 2006, SNF won nine of 16 (56 percent).
For the full season, “Sunday Night Football” averaged 21.8 million viewers, a gain of 12 percent from 2009 (19.4 million) and the best viewership for the NFL’s premier primetime broadcast package in 14 years.
SNF NO. 1 PRIMETIME PROGRAM FOR SEASON: For the primetime television season, “Sunday Night Football,” during its season, ranked as the most-watched show (persons 2+) and the No. 1 program across the key demographics of Adults 18-49, 18-34, 25-54 as well as Men 18-49, 18-34 and 25-54, based on Nielsen live + same day data. Additionally, SNF was the No. 3 show among Women 18-34 behind only Grey’s Anatomy and Glee, and, remarkably, No. 3 among Women 18-49 behind only Dancing with the Stars and Grey’s Anatomy.
NFL OPENING KICKOFF: In a tradition that began in 2004, the Super Bowl champion annually hosts the following season’s Thursday night season kickoff. The NFL will open this season on NBC, Thursday, Sept. 8, with a matchup of the last two Super Bowl Champions as the Packers host the Saints. Last year’s opening game featuring the Vikings at Saints drew 27.5 million viewers, the most-watched regular-season primetime NFL game ever on NBC.
In the first “Sunday Night Football” contest of the season the Jets host the Cowboys on the 10th anniversary of the tragic events of September 11, 2001.
2011 “SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL” SCHEDULE
Thurs. Sept. 8 NFL Kickoff New Orleans Saints at Green Bay Packers
Sun. Sept. 11 Week 1 Dallas Cowboys at New York Jets
Sun. Sept. 18 Week 2 Philadelphia Eagles at Atlanta Falcons
Sun. Sept. 25 Week 3 Pittsburgh Steelers at Indianapolis Colts
Sun. Oct. 2 Week 4 New York Jets at Baltimore Ravens
Sun. Oct. 9 Week 5 Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons
Sun. Oct. 16 Week 6 Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears
Sun. Oct. 23 Week 7 Indianapolis Colts at New Orleans Saints
Sun. Oct. 30 Week 8 Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles
Sun. Nov. 6 Week 9 Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers
Sun. Nov. 13 Week 10 New England Patriots at New York Jets
Sun. Nov. 20 *Week 11 Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants
Sun. Nov. 27 *Week 12 Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs
Sun. Dec. 4 *Week 13 Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots
Sun. Dec. 11 *Week 14 New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys
Sun. Dec. 18 *Week 15 Baltimore Ravens at San Diego Chargers
Sun. Dec. 25 *Week 16 Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers
Sun. Jan. 1 *Week 17 TBA
“FOOTBALL NIGHT IN AMERICA”: ‘Football Night,’ which enjoyed its best viewership ever last season averaging 8.3 million viewers, begins NBC’s NFL coverage every Sunday at 7 p.m. ET.
THURSDAY, SEPT. 8 – NFL KICKOFF 2011
New Orleans Saints vs. Green Bay Packers (Lambeau Field, Green Bay Wisc.) In a tradition that began in 2004, the Super Bowl champion annually hosts the following season’s Thursday night season kickoff. This year, the last two Super Bowl champions meet as the Packers, who thrilled Titletown with their first Super Bowl championship in 13 years, host the Saints, who helped to heal the city of New Orleans with their victory in Super Bowl XLVI.
SUNDAY, SEPT. 11 – WEEK ONE
Dallas Cowboys at New York Jets (Meadowlands Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.) “Sunday Night Football” kicks off its season with the New York Jets, who have advanced to the AFC Championship Game each of the last two seasons, hosting America’s Team, the Dallas Cowboys. An interesting sidebar to this game is the battle of the brothers as Jets head coach Rex Ryan goes against brother Rob, the defensive coordinator for the Cowboys. The game is scheduled to be played on the 10th anniversary of the tragic events of September 11, 2001.
SUNDAY, SEPT. 18 – WEEK TWO
Philadelphia Eagles at Atlanta Falcons (Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Ga.) Eagles quarterback Michael Vick played six seasons in Atlanta. He returns for the first time as a starting quarterback as the defending NFC East champion Eagles take on Matt Ryan and the NFC South champion Falcons. The Eagles defeated the Falcons 31-17 last season when the two teams met in Philadelphia.
SUNDAY, SEPT. 25 – WEEK THREE
Pittsburgh Steelers at Indianapolis Colts (Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Ind.) A matchup of two of the top teams in the NFL over the last decade and two of the league’s marquee quarterbacks as Peyton Manning leads the defending AFC South champion Colts against Ben Roethlisberger and the AFC Champion Steelers. The two teams have combined to win three of the last six Super Bowls with the Colts advancing to the playoffs in each of the last 11 seasons. The Steelers, who lost to the Packers in Super Bowl XLV, have played in three of the last six Super Bowls, winning two of them.
SUNDAY, OCT. 2 – WEEK FOUR
New York Jets at Baltimore Ravens (M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, Md.) Rex Ryan goes back to Baltimore for the first time as head coach of the New York Jets to face the Ravens, where he served as a defensive coach for 10 years, the last five as defensive coordinator. This matchup of the two AFC Wild Card teams from last season features two of the NFL’s top young quarterbacks in the Jets’ Mark Sanchez and the Ravens’ Joe Flacco.
SUNDAY OCT. 9 – WEEK FIVE
Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons (Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Ga.) “Sunday Night Football” returns to Atlanta for the second time in four weeks with a rematch of last year’s NFC Divisional playoffs, which the Super Bowl champion Packers won 48-21. Matt Ryan leads the Falcons, who were an NFC best 13-3 last season, against the Packers and their Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers.
SUNDAY, OCT. 16 – WEEK SIX
Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears (Soldier Field, Chicago, Ill.) A classic NFC North battle as the defending division champion Bears led by QB Jay Cutler take on Adrian Peterson and the Vikings, who missed out on the playoffs last year for the first time in three years.
SUNDAY, OCT. 23 – WEEK SEVEN
Indianapolis Colts at New Orleans Saints (Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans, La.) Peyton Manning returns to play in his hometown of New Orleans for the first time since 2003 in a rematch of Super Bowl XLIV, as he leads the defending AFC South champion Colts against Drew Brees and the Saints. This marks the second straight year New Orleans will host a game that will go head-to-head against a World Series game.
SUNDAY, OCT. 30 – WEEK EIGHT
Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles (Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, Pa.) In the first of three classic NFC East rivalries on the “Sunday Night Football” schedule, Tony Romo leads the Dallas Cowboys into Philadelphia to take on Vick and the defending NFC East champion Eagles. The Cowboys missed the playoffs last season after reaching the postseason in three of the previous four seasons. Last year’s Eagles-Cowboys game on SNF in Week 14 drew 25.73 million viewers, making it the most watched “Sunday Night Football” game ever.
SUNDAY, NOV. 6 – WEEK NINE
Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers (Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, Pa.) This game is one of the fiercest rivalries in the NFL. They split their head-to-head meetings in the regular season last year with the Ravens winning 17-14 in Week 4 in Pittsburgh and the Steelers taking the Week 13 matchup 13-10 in Baltimore. They then met in the AFC Divisional playoffs in Pittsburgh with the Steelers advancing to the AFC Championship game by defeating the Ravens 31-24.
SUNDAY, NOV. 13 – WEEK 10
New England Patriots at New York Jets (Meadowlands Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.) This has become one of the most anticipated matchups each season. The two teams split their regular season games last year with the Jets defeating the Pats in 28-14 in Week 2 at the Meadowlands and the Pats blowing out the Jets 45-3 in Week 13 when both teams came into the game with identical 9-2 records. The two teams then met again in the AFC Divisional playoffs with the Jets defeating the Pats 28-21 to advance to the AFC Championship Game.
SUNDAY, NOV. 20 – WEEK 11
Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants (Meadowlands Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.) This NFC East division rivalry returns to the Meadowlands where, in Week 15 last season, the Eagles scored 28 points in the last 7:28 of the fourth quarter, capped by DeSean Jackson’s 65-yard punt return on the last play of the game, to defeat the Giants 38-31 at the Meadowlands, likely costing the Giants a spot in the postseason.
SUNDAY, NOV. 27 – WEEK 12
Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs (Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, Mo.) “Sunday Night Football” heads to Kansas City, a town known for its rabid support of its football team, for the first time ever. The defending AFC West Champion Chiefs, one of the surprise teams in the NFL last season, host the defending AFC Champion Steelers.
SUNDAY, DEC. 4 – WEEK 13
Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots (Gillette Stadium, Foxboro Mass.) In what has become perhaps the most anticipated game on the NFL schedule each season, Tom Brady and the Patriots face Peyton Manning and the Colts for the ninth straight year. Manning and Brady have combined for six of the last eight NFL MVP awards.
SUNDAY, DEC. 11 – WEEK 14
New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys (Dallas Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas) The Giants and Cowboys meet for the first time on “Sunday Night Football” since the inaugural game in the new Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Week 2 of the 2009 season. That game drew 24.8 million viewers, which made it, at the time, the most watched SNF game ever. Two Giants-Cowboys games rank in the top-10 of the most watched “Sunday Night Football” games.
SUNDAY, DEC. 18 – WEEK 15
Baltimore Ravens at San Diego Chargers (Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, Calif.) Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers, who finished last season at 9-7, one game behind the AFC West champion Chiefs and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2005, host Ray Lewis and the Ravens in a key late-season AFC matchup.
SUNDAY, DEC. 25 – WEEK 16
Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers (Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wisc.) Bears-Packers is not only a rematch of last year’s NFC Championship game but also the oldest rivalry in the history of the NFL. The two teams have met 182 times dating back to 1921 with the Bears holding the edge in the series 92-84-6. This is only the second time in history that these two teams are meeting on Christmas Day (2005).
SUNDAY, JAN. 1 – WEEK 17
Teams to be announced by NFL at least six days prior. The schedule does not list a Sunday night game in Week 17, but the NFL will choose matchups for each of their network partners to ensure a national game with playoff implications to conclude the season.
FLEXIBLE SCHEDULING: The season again will utilize “flexible scheduling” in Weeks 11-17. In Weeks 11-16, the schedule lists the games tentatively set for Sunday Night Football on NBC. Only Sunday afternoon games are eligible to be moved to Sunday night, in which case the tentatively scheduled Sunday night game would be moved to an afternoon start time. Flexible scheduling will not be applied to games airing on Thursday, Saturday or Monday nights.
A flexible scheduling move would be announced at least 12 days before the game. For Week 17, the change will be announced no later than six days before the game. The schedule does not list a Sunday night game in Week 17, but an afternoon game with playoff implications will be moved to that time slot to conclude the season.
Flexible scheduling will ensure quality matchups in all Sunday time slots in those weeks and give “surprise” teams a chance to play their way into primetime.