When the NFL kicks off on Thursday night, Sept. 10, Super Bowl hero Patrick Mahomes and defending champion Kansas City play hosts to the Houston Texans in the first of five scheduled Chiefs’ appearances in prime time this season.
Three days later, the Sunday night showcase features two more five-timers with the Dallas Cowboys on the road in the Los Angeles Rams’ sparkling new spaceship-stadium. Five’s the maximum a team can get, otherwise stars like Tom Brady, now in Tampa Bay, and Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson, last season’s league MVP, might not play any matinees.
The Buccaneers and Ravens, along with the Aaron Rodgers-led Green Bay Packers, Drew Brees’ New Orleans Saints and the Brady-less New England Patriots also maxed out on prime-time allotments. The rest of the league gets what’s left.
Except for the Detroit Lions and the Washington Redskins. Two of the league’s most woe-begotten franchises get zero games in prime time, according to the schedule released last week.
If the Redskins don’t get “flexed” into a night game later in the season, it would be their first prime-time shutout since 1982.
Reasons why the Redskins were passed over aren’t hard to figure. For one, Washington is coming off a 3-13 season — its worst since 2013. And in addition to their poor record, the Redskins lack the kind of star power the networks see pulling in viewers on a Monday night. Or Sunday. Or Thursday. Take your pick.
Sure, Chase Young was an exciting pick for a franchise desperately needing a difference-maker. But ask yourself: When was the last time a defensive player was used as the main selling point of a marquee matchup? J.J. Watt and Richard Sherman might be the only two in the league.
The Redskins worked their way to the bottom of the pile gradually. In the last decade, Washington had 29 games in prime time — 20th, league-wide. And far behind the team’s other NFC East rivals: the Cowboys led the league with 52, while the Eagles (with 48) and the Giants (with 46) also ranked in the top five.
While the number of prime-time matchups continues to grow — “Thursday Night Football” was introduced in 2006 — the Redskins have seen their appearances drop.
In the first decade of the 2000s, Washington ranked 9th with 31 games, according to Pro Football Reference. That was a sizable jump from the ‘90s, when the Redskins had 25 games (19th). Both rankings come in under the Burgundy and Gold glory days of the ‘80s, when the Redskins had the sixth-most prime-time games in the NFL with 22.
Maybe it’s a good thing for the Redskins. Night games have become a bit of a curse. Last decade, the franchise went 8-21 in prime time — a .276 winning percentage. Only the Miami Dolphins and Cincinnati Bengals were worse.
And the Redskins allowed 27.2 points per game in those outings. They had a negative-203 point differential, meaning they were outscored by nearly a touchdown per game. Of those 21 losses, 14 were by at least 10 points.
Other than the Thanksgiving date in Dallas, the Redskins apparently will go into this season flying under the radar, allowing coach Ron Rivera to spend the first year of his rebuild largely out of the league’s spotlight.
“When you play Dallas in such a big traditional game, you know you’re the only game on that day at that time slot,” Rivera told The NFL Network. “It’s pretty cool for our guys to know they have the national stage.”
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