The NFL Network: Rate the Shows

RATE THE NFL TV SHOWS
The NFL Network

A couple of years ago the NFL viewing landscape changed dramatically with the creation of the NFL Network. Although this entity still needs more programming (they’ve even added a recurring show on College Football to fill air time!), the folks on the new network have the time and the mandate to provide the most depth and, well, just the MOST, period, when it comes to football TV. By cleverly combining the NFL Network shows with standard programming and my DVR I have managed to watch football not only EVERY night after work but also throughout the off-season. There is no better way to stave off football withdrawal.

Every major network and sports channel has acknowledged the premier place which pigskin play occupies in the national consciousness (all due respect to our baseball brethren). Even if your cable company lives in the dark ages and refuses to carry the new NFL channel, you can still feed the football jones with a plethora of football shows from which to choose

NFL News

NFL Total Access – a one to one-and-half hour show that airs every day except Sunday on the NFL Network, usually at 7PM Eastern. It repeats several times a day (as do most NFL Network programs) so check your channel guide. Host Rich Eisen is annoying as hell, but analysts Terrell Davis, Marshall Faulk, Jamie Dukes and Rod Woodson are worth it. They’ve overdone the backlit orange Plexiglas and swooping stage crane camera shots but the content is first rate. For a solid hour of the latest around the league you really can’t beat it.

NFL Live – Weekdays all year round on ESPN! Usually 4PM Eastern but it moves around some. Don’t worry – your TiVo will find it. This half hour is the fast and furious NFL News show: they bring you up to date on injuries and news and provide the absolute best analysis available from Mark Schlereth, Chris Carter, Marcellus Wiley, James Hasty, Shaun King, GM Floyd Reese, Tim Hasselbeck and stellar newcomer Trent Dilfer. Host Trey Wingo has grown on me and I now kind of like his humor. The players and Reese can deliver a lot of info in a very short period of time. If you don’t have the NFL Network this is a must see and even if you do, the concise nature of the football knowledge imparted can’t be topped.

Pre-Game

Even with the advent of the NFL Network I still watch ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown, which starts 2 hours before kickoff. They cover all the games and hosts Chris Berman and Tom Jackson manage the banter with an ease that comes of their over 20 years of partnership. The players are funny, except Steve Young – and he’s very informative so we forgive him. By far the most coverage and least shenanigans of all the pre-game offerings.

NFL Today – one hour before kickoff on CBS. I always prefer to listen to coaches do game breakdowns – they just have a more in-depth perspective than players. So, if you want to concentrate on AFC contests you can choose to listen to Bill Cowher, Shannon Sharpe, Boomer Esiason and Dan Marino. Cowher’s info is top-notch and Sharpe is quite witty. Boomer thinks he’s witty when he’s really kind of nasty, but his viewpoint is always valid and while Marino isn’t the sharpest crayon in the box when it comes to league-wide issues, his specific play breakdowns can’t be beat.

FOX NFL Sunday – One hour before the games, FOX. New host Curt Menefee looks a little out of his depth with Terry, Howie, Jimmy Johnson and new analyst Michael Strahan but there is NO doubt that this is the most sheer fun of all your pre-game options! Strahan of course fits right in and Curt at least seems to enjoy his rambunctious colleagues, even if he can’t always control them. I personally wish that Jimmy Johnson would analyze more like a coach and less like a TV personality, but that’s an opinion possibly influenced by my natural Redskins’ distrust of him as a former Dallas coach. Tune in for a focus on the NFC and a few laughs.

NFL Gameday Morning – 3 hours before kickoff on NFL Network. If, like me, you know that there’s no such thing as too much football, then start your Sunday THREE hours before kickoff with the NFL Network’s first hour of coverage. There’s a little too much mini-feature stuff and not enough injury status but I’m hard-core so that might just be me.

At 2 hours before kickoff the show continues with more serious breakdowns. This morning production is trying to split the difference between the fun of FOX and the info of ESPN. They’re not quite there yet, but it’s a thorough look at the upcoming day in the NFL. Since I watch Total Access all week long, I don’t feel that I hear enough new things on this show, so I watch ESPN instead. But if you’ve missed Total Access, this is an excellent option.

Highlights

NFL Gameday Highlights – The NFL Network wins this one by virtue of thoroughness: these guys have been on the air all day analyzing each game as it’s being played so they are really ready to rock at 730PM Eastern Sundays on this highlight show.

Football Night in America – NBC at 7PM Eastern before Sunday Night Football. Cris Collinsworth is the unquestioned ace analyst on the air when Bill Parcells is busy on the field or in the Front Office. Since he’s apparently the only guy who can get along with Bob Costas the two host this review of all early Sunday games and get you ready for Sunday night’s contest. Collinsworth is a gold mine of football savvy and always worth listening to – I just wish they’d get rid of the officious and condescending Keith Olbermann and Dan Patrick. Ick.

NFL Primetime – ESPN 2PM Eastern before Monday NFL Countdown. The series has been re-vamped and improved considerably this year. The analysis has more style and humanity than the NFL Network version and it really moves right along for a zippy look at all the games. Berman and Jackson have been replaced by host Trey Wingo, coach Ditka, feisty former RB Meril Hoge and always eye-pleasing Mark Schlereth. Again, there’s nothing as good as a coach’s input and Ditka does it with a bluntness that is so funny it could be standup. Hoge has been an analyst so long he is practically a coach so his comments are excellent and Schlereth is no slouch and always brings a league-wide perspective that appeals to the Big Picture fan. This show also airs on Tuesday mornings to include the Monday night game – something that the NFL Network doesn’t do.

Monday NFL Countdown – only on ESPN so try not to miss it – unless, like, you have a job or something. An hour and a half before MNF, it is a little highlight recap of Sunday’s action and a VERY thorough breakdown of what is usually a high profile, competitive game with a lot of players worth talking about. Keyshawn Johnson and Mike Ditka are hysterical together, I have always liked Chris Carter both for his life philosophies and his analysis and Tom Jackson can always be counted on to keep things real.

Inside the NFL – Beginning Wednesday nights at 10PM Eastern on Showtime. I will never understand HBO canceling this series after decades of success. But their loss is Showtime’s gain. The only survivor of the HBO “cast” is the aforementioned Cris Collinsworth. Anchored by James Brown, the other analysts are Warren Sapp, Bill Cowher and Phil Simms. Despite Brown’s total inability to reign in the aggressive and long-winded Simms, this show is working its way towards being a spirited discussion mixed with highlights. Simms and Collinsworth apparently can’t stand each other and it shows, but eventually they will balance out and even now it’s one of the better ways to recap the previous week and prepare for upcoming Sunday action. It’s not as good as the original, which concentrated on highlights and picks, but still features the NFL films version of the highlights – and you can’t miss that Voice and those long lens shots. So tune in and prepare to be dazzled by slo-mo athletic feats set to classical music.

Analysis – This section is only for the very serious football fan. Both of these series use coaches’ tape and X & O jargon as they delve into specific game matchups, offensive and defensive schemes and football fundamentals. I wouldn’t miss them for the world, but they’re not for everyone.

NFL Matchup – Why they’ve moved this show to 730AM Eastern Time on Sundays is frankly beyond me. It is must see TV for those of us who think WAY too much about football. Thank goodness you can record it! Merril Hoge and Ron Jaworski exchange verbal thrusts as they dissect (there’s really no other word for it) an upcoming game or two. Whatever you do, don’t put money on Ron Jaworski’s pick – in QB fashion he tends to seriously overthink the situation.

Playbook AFC and Playbook NFC – Starting Fridays at various times on the NFL Network. I have to say that if these were the ONLY two shows on the NFL Network I STILL would have switched to Direct TV to get the channel. I am in heaven as Sterling Sharpe, Brian Baldinger, Solomon Wilcott and coach Brian Billick navigate blitz packages and personnel, offensive tendencies, schemes and player to player matchups during a full hour dedicated to each conference. Recently they’ve added whiteboard demos and tape sessions with current players and coaches – priceless! I must confess that I’ve never liked Billick as a coach, but his teaching segments on various aspects of the current game are incredibly clear and informative. However, Baldinger, dude – you have GOT to do something about that right pinkie: it sticks out at entirely the wrong angle and is very distracting. We get it, you were a tough SOB out there on the field. But I’m cringing every time you start talking with your hands. Surgery or pull a Ronnie Lott – please.

So go get your remote and start programming your DVR – football immersion is only a click away!

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