Part of the fun leading up to the 2012 NFL Schedule release tonight is trying to figure out just how many times the Denver Broncos will find themselves playing under the lights in prime-time in 2012. Even before acquiring Peyton Manning, the Broncos were likely to get their fair-share of prime-time opportunities, but with Manning - and the story that surrounds his comeback - the Broncos are sure to be fixtures.
Looking at the schedule, I see five likely opponents that NBC, ESPN and NFL Network could take on for Sunday Night, Monday Night or Thursday Night Football. Here are my guesses:
Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos: This has been rumored to be the Week 1 Sunday Night Football tilt for awhile and I buy it. Not only is it a rematch of the AFC Wildcard game won by the Broncos in Overtime, but it features teams that traditionally draw well on television. Both teams also appeal to the casual football fan, a group that the League and networks wants to draw in each year.
Denver Broncos at New England Patriots: Since the NFL used this game as the example for their 'movie-trailer-type' promos it is a safe bet that this game will find itself under the lights. Going even further, this game could be the Thanksgiving Day nightcap, a more than acceptable dessert to a day filled with food and football. Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady with a side of pumpkin pie. Yes, please!
Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders: One of the two match-ups between the Broncos and Raiders always find their way onto prime-time television. I am merely guess that this year it will be the game in Oakland. Manning up against Carson Palmer in the Black Hole? Why not?
San Diego Chargers at Denver Broncos: The addition of more Thursday night games means more divisional games could end up in primetime. Like many of the games on the Broncos schedule, this one would feature a great QB match-up between Manning and Philip Rivers. Like the Raiders game above, this one could just as easily be played in San Diego.
Denver Broncos at Carolina Panthers: There are plenty of sexy games on the Broncos schedule - the Texans, Saints, Ravens - but a trip to Carolina has just the right amount of sizzle to make it perfect for move under the lights. You start with the John Fox connection. While it's not filled with drama, the fact that Fox went right from Carolina to Denver, during the lockout, and managed to guide the Broncos to the playoffs is remarkable. Then you have the resurgence of the Panthers. The NFL likes to reward up-and-coming teams with primetime home games, and seeing two former No. 1-overall draft picks at quarterback - the old man vs. the young kid - might be just the recipe the NFL is looking for. Cam Newton, the new-age NFL quarterback against Peyton Manning. I'd watch!
To be honest, all the games on the Broncos 2012 schedule could be candidates. With flex-scheduling, there will likely be games moved, which is why I only picked 5. The Chiefs could be an option, or Cincinnati. Matt Ryan and the Falcons?
These are my guesses. We'll all know in a few hours. What do YOU think?