The 2014 National Football League schedule was unveiled Wednesday night, including the 17-game regular-season slate for ESPN’s Monday Night Football, which begins with a doubleheader on Monday, Sept. 8 – the New York Giants versus the Detroit Lions (7 p.m. ET) followed by the San Diego Chargers versus the Arizona Cardinals (10:15 p.m.).
What is your initial reaction to the MNF schedule, especially kicking off the season in Detroit?
It’s always exciting to see where we are going to spend our fall weekends. It will be good to start with two quarterbacks in Eli Manning and Matthew Stafford operating in new offenses on opening night. Knowing firsthand the hunger for a winner in Detroit [Tirico lives nearby], the atmosphere will certainly be great for the opener. It is exciting to start the season with Eli and end with Peyton [Manning] in Cincinnati as the Bengals and Broncos try to get back to the playoffs.
Traditionally, the NFC East and North always provide great drama and great storylines, and we will have a team from one of those two divisions in half of our games. It really shapes up as the best schedule we’ve had going into a season.
Are you excited to see the Redskins and Cowboys renewing their rivalry on MNF?
There are rivalries and then there’s Redskins-Cowboys, especially at the midway mark of the season it really sets the second half tone for both teams. Their games in Dallas over the years have been some of the most memorable in the first 44 years of Monday Night Football so we look forward to another chapter in that great and storied rivalry.
Do any other games jump out at you?
New England-Kansas City. Two playoff teams from a year ago. Great coaches in [Patriots coach Bill] Belichick and [Chiefs coach Andy] Reid. Plus, one of the best atmospheres in football – Arrowhead [Stadium] on Monday night. So it all builds up for a great first month of the season.
[Seattle Seahawks star] Russell Wilson against RGIII [Washington Redskins standout Robert Griffin III] the very next week also jumps out. It will be great to see two of the biggest impact young quarterbacks go head-to-head on MNF. The Thanksgiving Week game with Baltimore at New Orleans can be tremendous. Both recent Super Bowl champions, the Ravens returning to the site of their big victory over San Francisco and, knowing both teams over the years, I think their playoff push will begin right there. And three weeks later, the Saints trip to Chicago. That should be a great theater in the 15th week on the 15th day of December.
What are your thoughts on the four December games in cold weather cities?
We will have no trouble being in the holiday spirit in the Northeast and especially the Midwest to close the season. But the great thing about all those cities – they have great football traditions and with the opponents who are coming in, especially the last two weeks, there could be a lot on the line in those cold weather Monday night season-enders.
Of the cities MNF will visit in 2014, what are your favorites?
I always look forward to seeing what cities we get to visit again, especially ones we have missed over the last year or two. So, it will be nice to be back in Indianapolis, Kansas City, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. The annual trips to Soldier Field and Lambeau Field are always icing on top and hitting the standards like New York, D.C. and Dallas. Overall, not a bad stop on the 45th Monday Night Football tour of America.
How much are you looking forward to calling your first postseason game with ESPN adding a Wild Card playoff game to the MNF schedule?
Needless to say, we are thrilled about being a part of the postseason. Playoff football is truly what memories are made of and to have a chance to be a part of the postseason for the first time is a personal thrill and I know the same is true for all of us at ESPN.
Speaking of the postseason, how do you feel about calling the Pro Bowl again to kick off Super Bowl week in Arizona in January?
When the NFL tried this in Miami a few years ago, it did provide a really good kick off for Super Bowl week and I think it will do the same again in Arizona. The fans of the cities that host the Super Bowl don’t really get to go to the big game so the chance to support the festivities and see some of the best players in the league, in person in the same stadium where the biggest game of the year will be played the very next week, is a great way to start the sport’s ultimate week.
Editor’s Note: For more on the Monday Night schedule, ESPN.com’s Ashley Fox highlights three must-watch games this fall.