The NFL released the 2011 schedule on Tuesday and surprised some with their choices for primetime games. The Oakland Raiders, Detroit Lions, St. Louis Rams and Jacksonville Jaguars highlight a few of the nonplayoff teams that will have the opportunity to play on national television on Monday nights. Perhaps none more so than the Jaguars that will have two home Monday night games and a Thursday game all in the latter half of the season.
Why would the NFL line up three primetime, nationally televised games for a team that finished 8-8 in 2010 and has just one playoff victory in the last decade? Maybe it's because the league is attempting to help the franchise to sell tickets by increasing the demand for high quality games or maybe it's because the league is expecting more from the Jaguars.
The Jaguars are currently listed at 65/1 on Bodog.com for their odds at winning Super Bowl XLVI in February. Only the Panthers, Bills, Seahawks and Cardinals are considered less likely to win the championship. I guess you could say the national expectations for the team are pretty low.
But looking back at last year's odds, this is nothing new for the Jaguars. Prior to the 2010 season the Jaguars had 100/1 odds on Bodog.com to win Super Bowl XLV. While they obviously didn't do so, they impressed many by fighting to 8-5 before unfortunately losing three straight to finish the season.
For the NFL, their selections make it appear as though they are hoping that young teams on the rise like the Jaguars have strong starts to their season and make for good matchups late. Last year, the NFL Monday Night Football schedule featured a matchup between the Vikings and Bears in late December that they obviously planned to be a battle between playoff-caliber teams. Instead it featured the 5-8 Vikings playing the 9-4 Bears in a game that meant very little for Minnesota.
The NFL made the mistake of investing a late season primetime game in a team that was supposed to have been quarterbacked by the 41 year old Brett Favre. Among the games they could've featured instead was the Jaguars and Colts battle for the AFC South, the 11-2 Patriots against the future Super Bowl champion Packers as well as the battle of the 9-4 Jets and 10-3 Steelers.
Barring a rookie quarterback starting for the Jaguars, there's no reason to believe the team will regress in 2011. The Jaguars' roster is full of youth and while they have plenty of needs they will need to address this offseason, it's not hard to buy into the idea that they could make another playoff push next season. While the oddsmakers might not reflect that with 65/1 odds, those are almost twice as good as they were prior to last season.
The only other possible explanation for the Jaguars receiving two home Monday Night Football slots in the second half of the season is that the NFL is trying to help the team to sell the tickets that they've had difficulty with in the past. However they didn't receive this kind of help in the past though, and I hardly believe that the league would sacrifice TV viewership to help one franchise with tickets.
It's probably not a coincidence that the two Monday night games they did receive are at home, and that's likely the NFL throwing them a bone for ticket sales, but it appears as though the reasoning for the Jacksonville selection runs deeper than that. Instead I think that the NFL believes in the Jaguars and believes that they will provide some intriguing matchups late in the season.