The Detroit Lions’ 2022 schedule doesn’t officially drop until Thursday night at 8 p.m. ET. However, the NFL has been slowly leaking individual games over the past two weeks. They announced the five international games this year. ESPN has already announced a Week 2 “Monday Night Football” doubleheader. Additionally, the first Thursday Night Football game of the year has been announced.
While nothing about the Lions has leaked yet, we do have a potential clue as to who their Thanksgiving opponent may be this year.
In the video below, Michael North, vice president of broadcast planning for the NFL, explains how the overall schedule creation process begins. Simply put, they start with the games that have the most restrictions around them. Most years, those are the Thanksgiving games. This is why:
CBS will broadcast the Lions game on Thanksgiving Day this year (they rotate annually between Dallas and Detroit). In the past, CBS’ Thanksgiving telecasts always featured an AFC team, which meant programmers had a very limited number of options for either the Cowboys or Lions Thanksgiving game. Back in the 16-game schedule format, NFC teams would receive only two AFC teams per year. So the schedule would only offer two options for that Thanksgiving game, and the people making the schedule would build from there. North explains, using this year’s Lions example.
“This year in Detroit, we know they’ll be hosting Miami and Buffalo for AFC games, and Detroit will be on CBS this year,” explains North. “So right now, your options for Thanksgiving in Detroit are Miami or Buffalo. Whichever you choose will take you down a quest tree path that will be very, very different.”
But things have changed a bit recently. CBS’ Thanksgiving telecasts still favor an AFC team fitting the mold, but it’s no longer a certainty. Of the last 20 Thanksgiving games on CBS, 16 included an AFC opponent, but only six of the last 10. Three were a division rivalry game and one was a random Cowboys vs. panthers.
Also, since the change to the 17-game schedule, teams with nine home games will host a third opponent from the other conference. This year, in addition to the Dolphins and Bills, the Lions will host the Jacksonville Jaguars as part of their AFC roster. That gives CBS another Thanksgiving option if they’re going to try to keep a visiting AFC team.
The Jaguars are the only NFL team that has never played on Thanksgiving Day, while the Dolphins (2006) and Bills (1994) have played the Lions on the November break recently.
Regardless of which direction the NFL takes, it looks like the programmers will at least try to give Detroit a matchup with the AFC.