At Least The Eagles Will Play More 1:00 P.M. Games Next Season
10:38 AM EST on January 3, 2024
Eagles fans were pretty excited heading into the parking lots on Sunday morning. The Eagles had won the previous week after a three-game skid. The Giants stink, for sure, and the game was not pretty. But the Eagles won, and results around the league put them in position to grab the No. 2 seed in the NFC. There was even an outside shot they could get the No. 1 seed. On Sunday, the Eagles welcomed the Arizona Cardinals, one of the worst teams in the league. They were 12.5-point favorites. Fans would get to boo Arizona coach Jonathan Gannon, the Eagles’ defensive coordinator who has taken the brunt of the blame for the Eagles’ 38-35 loss in the Super Bowl. There was another bonus, too: The game was at 1:00 p.m.
Tailgating is an essential part of the football experience for a lot of people. The setups run from a few lounge chairs and some beers to full spreads. Some fans become minor celebrities. Action News’ Matt O’Donnell once asked a man in his car, at 6:00 a.m.: “Don’t you think it’s a little crazy to be out here at 6:00 a.m.?” The fan had a simple reply: “No. This is what I have to do.” Maybe he meant that he needed to get there that early to get his crew’s preferred tailgate spot. Maybe he meant that the team really needed him to be there. Either way, the result was the same.
Arriving at 6:00 a.m. for a 1:00 p.m. NFL game is pretty early. But it’s only seven hours before game time. This season, though, Eagles fans who arrived in the morning had to wait much longer for games. There were only two 1:00 p.m. Eagles games in Philadelphia this year. The Eagles had just three in the 17-week season; their final game on Sunday is at 4:25 p.m.
The Eagles had nine 1:00 p.m. games last season. The Eagles were not expected to be among the best teams last year, and so ended up with a schedule that just put them in the early slot; they weren’t worthy of prime time. The 2018 Eagles, coming off a Super Bowl win, had six 1:00 p.m. games. The seasons are not entirely comparable: The 2018 Eagles played just one West Coast team, the Rams, while the 2023 Eagles played four games against the NFC West. But the Eagles also matched up against the AFC East this year. Three early games seems really low.
Pro Football Reference has the times of every game since the AFL/NFL merger. They’re split into early (before 3:00 p.m. ET), afternoon (3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.) and late (after 7:00 p.m.). I’ll continue to call them “1 p.m. games” since that’s the standard. Stathead will give you the number of early games for every team, every season, since 1970. Plenty of teams have had just a few early games, on Eastern time, in a season. They are mostly in the Western, Mountain or Central time zones. The Cowboys, for example, have just two early games this year. Yet the Eagles, in the Eastern time zone, play just one more. That is not just low. Only one other team in the Eastern time zone played just three games at 1:00 p.m. in a season: the 1987 New York Giants. That Giants actually “moaned” about all the 4:00 p.m. starts. “The schedule is an insult to our fans,” owner Wellington Mara said. “We’re going from the National Football League to the Twilight League.”
But the Giants actually had four scheduled 1:00 p.m. games that year; Week 3 was canceled due to the players’ strike. So, really, the Giants were scheduled for four games at 1:00 p.m. The Eagles were scheduled to play the fewest 1:00 p.m. games of any east coast NFL team since the merger—which, basically, means the fewest ever.
Much like the 1987 Giants, the defending Super Bowl champs, this is the result of the team being good. And I hate it! The Eagles weren’t always bad when I was a kid, but they almost never came into the season with big expectations. They usually played at 1:00 p.m. The routine seemed right. Get up, go to church, get breakfast, watch the Birds, fall asleep on the couch during the late game. It was my childhood football experience. Early games are what I know.
This Eagles season has been incredibly frustrating. The Eagles kept winning, but they kept making it harder than it needs to be. After a late-season swoon, it has fallen off the edge. For me, this has all been made worse by the fact that the Eagles game played just three 1:00 p.m. games, one against Arizona and two against the Commanders. The Eagles played at 1:00 p.m. when they played two of the worst teams in the league.
The first two were close; the Eagles even needed overtime to beat Washington at home. The third game was a disaster. Eagles fans had a short tailgate and a long game. They were up 21-6 at halftime and lost, 35-31. The Cardinals did not punt all game. Arizona drove into Eagles territory every possession besides the one where they got the ball with 16 seconds left in the half. In his third game as de facto coordinator, Matt Patricia’s defense had the worst performance of the year—possibly one of the worst performances for a good Eagles team ever. Unless the Eagles beat the Giants and the Commanders beat the Cowboys, a team that started 10-1 will finish second in the NFC East be the No. 5 seed in the playoffs. I assume they’ll be a night game.