In a callback to the past, ESPN was given a marquee schedule for 'Monday Night Football'

Frank Schwab
·3-min read

Whoever is in the booth for ESPN to call “Monday Night Football” this season should have some good games to talk about.

The 50th anniversary of the first game on “Monday Night Football” will look a lot like the ABC era of the show, when the NFL put its best games on Monday night. There will even be an “MNF” game simulcast on ABC in Week 2, a nod to the 50th anniversary.

In the ESPN era of “Monday Night Football,” NBC has gotten the marquee games for Sunday night. The pool got even smaller when the NFL expanded its Thursday night schedule with Fox and started putting some top matchups there. ESPN was often stuck with second-tier games.

When the schedule was released on Thursday it seemed like “Monday Night Football” was a priority, especially late in the season.

Monday nights will be fun this season

Perhaps it’s because any games look good after all the cancelations of the past two months, but it’s hard to deny this is a pretty good “MNF” slate.

Before looking at any other game, note the Kansas City Chiefs-Baltimore Ravens game in Week 3. Any power rankings you can find will have both teams in the top three or four, and those two teams are 1-2 in our latest power rankings. It features Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson, the last two MVPs. You could argue that is the No. 1 matchup of all 256 games on the schedule. And it went to ESPN.

Not every game on the Monday night schedule is great. And things change — a game like the Buffalo Bills at the San Francisco 49ers looks very good now, but that could change drastically by Dec. 7. But ESPN has to be happy with the schedule it was given.

‘MNF’ will finish strong

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, left, and Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson will meet up on "Monday Night Football" this season. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, left, and Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson will meet on "Monday Night Football" this season. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

The final seven games in particular could all be quite good. Aside from the Cincinnati Bengals — who still feature No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow — and the Cleveland Browns, all of the teams involved are either consistent playoff teams or should be in contention this year. And yes, maybe this is the Browns’ year to break through.

There’s a great NFC North battle between the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears, the Los Angeles Rams visiting Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a playoff rematch between the Seattle Seahawks and Philadelphia Eagles, a Bills-49ers game featuring two potential contenders, a Baltimore Ravens-Cleveland Browns game that could be very interesting if the Browns take a step forward, a somewhat bland Pittsburgh Steelers-Bengals game, but then a Week 16 Bills-New England Patriots game that could be enormous in the AFC East race. That’s a fun stretch.

NBC still got great games for Sunday night and gets the benefit of flex scheduling. Thursday night looks more like most ESPN slates through the years. You’d have to give Monday night the edge over Thursday night this season. If ESPN can figure out the right broadcaster booth for the games, this year will be a big step forward for the “MNF” franchise.

For decades, “Monday Night Football” was the NFL’s crown jewel. The best games went there, and a big night on ABC took on a heightened significance. Legends were made on Monday nights.

“Monday Night Football” will likely never have the same cultural impact it once did, but it does have some great matchups for 2020.

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