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Ravens at Jags in London 2017? Patriots at Raiders in Mexico? Late Kick Offs Confirmed?

EDIT – Since this article was written Will Gavin of Talksport has confirmed via an NFL source that there will indeed be 4 games in London next year and that the Ravens at Jaguars most likely will be week 3 or 4 of 2017.

There was finally some movement Tuesday on the match-ups we might see for the 2017 International Series. Reports from ESPN suggest a strong consideration for the Baltimore Ravens to be the away team for the annual Jacksonville Jaguars Wembley game. The New England Patriots scheduled visit to the Oakland Raiders was also reported as being a strong rumour for next year’s game in Mexico City.

The Ravens making their first appearance abroad would certainly be welcomed by the British fan base as many are chalking off seeing all 32 teams in the International Series. Whilst they may not be one of the most popular teams amongst the U.K. fanbase, they do bring over big characters in Terrell Suggs and hopefully the legendary Steve Smith if he can go another year. They also have a Super Bowl MVP at quarterback and winning head coach in John Harbaugh. No doubt the annual offseason pumping up of the Jaguars chances by the media will also make the game more appealing by the time the game rolls around. Steve Smith v Jalen Ramsey round 2 might be worth the ticket cost alone.

The match up of the Patriots and Raiders in Mexico 2017 makes sense for a couple of reasons. It allows the game between (most likely) two key AFC playoff teams from 2016 to potentially slot into the NBC Sunday Night Football schedule. It also gives a benefit to Robert Kraft post the sour ending of the Deflategate debacle by giving him another away game on a neutral site. That would make it three ‘away’ game appearances for the Patriots in the International Series, the most of any team so far.

Meanwhile Joe Flint of the Wall Street Journal has reported and confirmed that the kick offs from 2017 in London will move back to the evening (or 1pmET). The theory behind it is that these early games are one of the reasons for the oversaturation of the league in the U.S. and therefore possibly the overall decline in ratings this year. The more game windows there are the more you dilute the appointment viewing appetite for the prime time games, runs the hypothesis. The reaction from U.K. fans to this news appears to be mixed with some enjoying games under the lights and interspersed with Red Zone while others curse the extra hassle that makes to travelling arrangements and inability to bring children to the games.

The problem is the reactive way the NFL is managed under Roger Goodell. Whether it’s re-emphasising defensive holding immediately after the Seahawks shutdown the highest scoring offense the league had ever seen in a Super Bowl (because no one enjoys seeing great defense obviously…), to introducing low hit personal fouls to a quarterback after one of the stars was lost for a season, to trying to make the CTE crisis go away by legislating all hits around the head and neck area are the responsibility of the defender no matter how impossible that sometimes makes the game to play. Changing the kick off times after 12 weeks of underperforming ratings with a multitude of likely causes is just another example of the knee jerk way the league is governed.

It’ll be interesting to see what is done about the Twickenham game or games next year. Playing late games at that stadium is more problematic than at Wembley. Firstly there’s the public transport issue, especially if a game runs into overtime. Overground trains normally cease running around 10:30pm on Sunday’s in South West London. Then there’s the Twickenham residents who have a say in when events can be held in the area. England aren’t allowed to play late kick off games in the Six Nations at home unlike say Wales or France. No Rugby World Cup game finished later than 6pm on a Sunday. Late events there on Sunday’s are very few and far between, a Rolling Stones concert in 2003 one of the handful of times it’s been done. Expect the last weekend in October to be scheduled at English home of rugby so that kick off can at least be moved to 5pm.

We already know the New Orleans Saints at Miami Dolphins will be one of the games in London next year. The remaining game or games in London are still unknown. Later kick offs does make the idea of the LA Rams playing in London again more feasible. Might we see another new team to London play against them next year? The Eagles or Texans perhaps? And what of the fourth game? Most likely home team as previously discussed could be between the Bucs and Redskins. We’re likely to find out in the next couple of weeks so that tickets can go on sale during the playoffs at the latest (don’t worry Fizzy Dave!).

Finally, despite the London franchise drum being banged harder than ever this year, there are a lot of signs that a travelling circus approach is closer to where the strategy lies in the league office at the moment. Mark Waller VP of International told recently,

”I like the London strategy, but I think it was narrow. I would love to think, 10 years out, in a season we were playing Mexico City, Vancouver, Berlin, three or four in London. That feels very inclusive.”

What happened to the talk last month of a London franchise in the next five years, Mark?!….


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