About a week ago the NFL released the schedule for the 2011 season.  Fans of the Patriots that live outside of New England that don’t subscribe to DirecTV’s Sunday Ticket or have a friend back home that has attached a Slingbox to their cable box for them immediately scrutinized the details in an attempt to figure out how many games they can expect to see on their television at home.  For fans of the Patriots that live outside of New England (but within the United States), here is a look at which games you can expect to see – as well as which ones you definitely won’t get.

First, some background on the rules governing NFL television broadcasts.

Doubleheaders CBS has the contract for AFC games and FOX has the contract for NFC games; when a game is played between teams from both conferences the broadcast rights go to the network of the visiting team. In other words Pats at Philadelphia is on CBS while Dallas at New England is on Fox.  Each week one network gets to air one game and the other gets two (i.e., the “doubleheader”), with the exception of week 17 when both get doubleheaders. The early games are on at 1:00 (I’ll use Eastern Time throughout this column); the network with one game kicks off at 4:05 while the doubleheader network starts at 4:15.  This means that if you see a 4:15 starting time there’s probably a better chance it will be on in your area since it is being broadcast by the network carrying two games that week.

Two types of Blackouts When the term “blackout” is used, most everyone thinks about a game not selling out and then not being broadcast within a 75-mile radius of the stadium.  However, there is also a lesser known type of blackout: when a team does sell all of their tickets and that game ends up on local television, no other games can be broadcast (with the exception of those on the Sunday Ticket) in that area.  So if for example you live in Pittsburgh (my condolences, by the way)  and the Steelers are playing at home, you’ll have no other NFL viewing choices while the Black and Gold play.  The only exception is when CBS broadcasts the US Open tennis late in week one and has only early games that week; that is because there is yet another rule that both networks will get a chance to air at least one game in each market, and that trumps the blackout rules.  The bottom line is that when an NFL team plays at home then there is some type of television blackout in effect: either the local game is blacked out, or any and all other games are not available.

One other rule is that you can’t subscribe to the Sunday Ticket in order to get around local blackout rules; for example if you live in Tampa you don’t get to watch the Bucs when they don’t sellout by purchasing the Sunday Ticket package.    One blackout rule you can easily get around by ordering the Sunday Ticket or going to a sports bar that has the ST; the other more well-known blackout rule forces you to settle for listening on the radio or watching on an unauthorized illegal and unreliable internet feed probably originating from outside of the United States that has a good chance of being full of malware.

Two teams in one market Some areas have two teams within one market: the Jets and Giants in New York and the 49ers and Raiders in the Bay area; then there is also the Ravens and Redskins being primary and secondary markets of each other.  These areas generally get just two games; an early game for one team and a late one for the other in order to comply with the rules above.  There are some exceptions, but I’ll leave it at that for now.

With all of that in mind, let’s take a look at what games fans can expect to see, as well as which ones are either doubtful or definitely not going to happen in specific markets.


Week One:  Pats at Dolphins, Monday September 12 at 7:00 on espn

Obviously this one is available to anybody not still relying on one of these:

The other afternoon games getting the most coverage will be the Steelers at Ravens on CBS at 1, Falcons at Bears on Fox at 1, and Giants at Redskins on Fox at 4.


Week 2:  Chargers at Pats, Sunday September 18 at 4:15 on CBS

This game will not be shown in Houston, Miami, Cincinnati or Denver because the Bengals at Broncos and Texans at Dolphins will be shown on CBS in those markets at that time.  Tampa and Jacksonville may show the Dolphins as well due to the proximity to Miami (Tampa in particular broadcast a lot of Dolphins games last year), but the Pats game should be on everywhere else.  It also won’t be on in the Bay area as the 49ers are home late, but will be on in New York as neither New Jersey team plays at 4.


Week 3:  Pats at Bills, Sunday September 25 at 1:00 on CBS

Rather than list all the markets that are excluded from this game, it’s easier to list the ones that might get it.  The only possibilities are the Sunday and Monday night teams (Steelers, Colts, Redskins and Cowboys) and NFC late teams (Falcons, Bucs, Packers, Bears, Cardinals and Seahawks), but they’re all more likely to opt for the Texans at Saints for their lone CBS game.  In other words, this game will only be on in New England and Buffalo.


Week 4:  Patriots at Raiders, Sunday October 2 at 4:15 on CBS

It’s a CBS doubleheader and the only other late CBS games are Broncos at Packers and Dolphins at Chargers, so the Pats will not be on in those four markets.  Again, don’t be surprised if Tampa and Jacksonville choose to air the Miami game over the the Pats.  In addition the Cardinals and Seahawks are playing home games at 4:05 so the Pats won’t be on in those areas.  Detroit, Chicago and Minnesota could air division rival Green Bay’s game, but I would think the Pats-Raiders would be aired most everywhere else.


Week 5:  Jets at Patriots, Sunday October 9th at 4:15 on CBS

Considering all the hype between these two teams the last couple of years, I can’t imagine any market that has a choice deciding to not broadcast this game.  The only places this won’t be seen are San Diego, Denver and SF/Oakland.


Week 6:  Cowboys at Pats, Sunday October 16 at 4:15 on Fox

Fox has the doubleheader and their only other game is New Orleans at Tampa Bay.  My guess is that the Pats-Cowboys will be that network’s primary choice even though the other game has two teams with winning records in 2010.  I’m expecting the Pats game to be available everywhere except in New Orleans and Tampa, and in Baltimore and Oakland due to their 4:05 home games.


Week 7:  Bye

Other games that should be available to most viewers include the Chargers at Jets at 1, Bears at Bucs at 1, Packers at Vikings at 4, Colts at Saints on SNF and Ravens at Jags on MNF.


Week 8:  Pats at Steelers, Sunday October 30 at 4:15 on CBS

The other CBS late games are the Browns at 49ers and Bengals at Seahawks, so no Pats game in those four areas.  In addition the Bills and Broncos are at home at 4:05, so the Pats game will not be shown in Buffalo or Denver.  The two other 4:15 games don’t come close to being as good as the Pats-Steelers matchup, so those six will be the only areas this game will not be shown in.


Week 9:  Giants at Pats, Sunday November 6 at 4:15 on CBS

This will be the second Pats game called by Joe Buck and Troy Aikman this season.  Fox also has the Packers at Chargers and Rams at Cardinals late, so the Pats game will not be on in those four markets; in addition the Raiders and Titans are at home at 4:05 so the Pats game will not be available there.  The Green Bay – San Diego game is a pretty good matchup; I’m guessing the western half of the country will get that game while the eastern half will have the Pats and Giants.


Week 10:  Pats at Jets, Sunday November 13 at 8:20 on NBC

The first of two Sunday night games the Patriots play will be available to everyone.  The Fox doubleheader that day will feature the Saints at Falcons followed by the Giants at 49ers.


Week 11:  Chiefs at Pats, Monday November 21 at 8:30 on espn

Back-to-back night games for the Patriots, so once again everybody gets to see them play.  On Thursday it’s the Jets at Broncos and Sunday night is Philly at the Giants; Chargers at Bears is the lone late CBS game.


Week 12:  Pats at Eagles, Sunday November 27 at 4:15 on CBS

The only team’s markets definitely not able to get this game will be Oakland, Seattle (home 4:05 games),  Denver and San Diego (also on CBS late).  This may be another situation where the western U.S. gets one game (Broncos at Chargers) while the east gets another game (Patriots at Philadelphia).


Week 13:  Colts at Pats, Sunday December 4 at 8:20 on NBC

Has the networks ratings sweeps period been pushed back this year?  Usually the matchup between these two teams is scheduled to be played when that is happening.  This is the second NBC game for the Pats, and the third night game that everybody will be guaranteed to be able to see.


Week 14:  Pats at Redskins, Sunday December 11 at 1:00 on CBS

Hard to imagine, but this is just the second early game of the season for the Pats.  CBS has the doubleheader this weekend, and as of now their only late game is the Bills at the Chargers.  Expect more than one change in starting times for this weekend, making conjecture of who will be able to see this game pretty much an exercise in futility at this point in time.


Week 15:  Pats at Broncos, Sunday December 18 at 4:15

The Ravens are at the Chargers on Sunday night; I’m guessing that game stays and won’t be flexed out.  The only early game that might be moved to a late time slot is Green Bay at Kansas City, and the only late game that might be moved back to a 1:00 start is the Jets at the Eagles.  If no changes are made and this week’s schedule remains as is then the Pats game will not be shown in Cleveland, Arizona, New York, Philadelphia or Oakland.  The Jets – Eagles appears to be a better matchup than the Pats – Broncos right now.  At minimum the Jets – Eagles will be shown in the eastern half of the country (other than New England), and it may end up being shown everywhere except in New England, Denver, Arizona, Cleveland and Oakland.


Week 16:  Dolphins at Pats, Saturday December 24 at 1:00 on CBS

There’s no Sunday night game on Christmas eve and it’s a Fox doubleheader, so I’m not expecting this or any other CBS game to be moved to the later time slot.  Right now the only places that may possibly get this game other than Florida and New England are Houston, Philly, Dallas, Seattle, Chicago and Green Bay.


Week 17:  Bills at Pats, Sunday January 1 at 1:00 on CBS

The television schedule for the final week of the season will come down to which games still have an impact on what teams do – or do not – make the playoffs.  It is doubtful that the Bills will be heading to the post-season (or be in a position to do so this late) so just like in the earlier matchup between these two teams, I would not expect it to be available anywhere at all – with the obvious exception of the Buffalo and New England television markets.



Personally I’m looking at at least ten games available to me at home even without getting the Sunday Ticket, plus a couple of other games that may be available on top of that.   I can’t recall that many of the Patriots games ever being on local television outside of New England – even in the early part of the last decade when the team was coming off championship seasons.  For me the Sunday Ticket is not looking like a good value this year, even with the knowledge that DirecTV does have a history of being open to negotiations on the price of the subscription once you get them on the phone.

How does it look for all the other Pats fans living outside of New England?


Happy Easter everyone!