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2022 NFL schedule: History suggests Detroit Lions’ Thanksgiving opponent could be down to 3 teams

Thanks to a video on how the NFL schedule is created, it appears the Detroit Lions’ 2022 Thanksgiving opponent could be between just a few teams.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Lions’ 2022 schedule doesn’t officially drop until Thursday night at 8 p.m. ET. However, the NFL has been slowly leaking out individual games over the past couple weeks. They announced the five international games this year. ESPN already announced a Week 2 “Monday Night Football” doubleheader. Plus the first Thursday Night Football game of the year has been announced.

While nothing about the Lions has been leaked yet, we do have a potential hint about who their Thanksgiving opponent may be this year.

In the video below, Michael North, the vice president of NFL broadcast planning, explains how the general process of schedule-building begins. Simply put, they start with the games that have the most constrictions around them. Most years, those are the Thanksgiving games. Here’s why:

CBS will be broadcasting the Lions’ game on Thanksgiving this year (they rotate yearly between Dallas and Detroit). In the past, CBS’s Thanksgiving broadcasts always featured an AFC team, meaning the schedule-builders would have a very limited amount of choices for the Cowboys or Lions Thanksgiving game. Back in the 16-game schedule format, NFC teams would host only two AFC teams per year. So the schedule would only offer two options for that one Thanksgiving Day game, and the people who make the schedule would build off from there. North explains, using this year’s example of the Lions.

“This year in Detroit, we know they’re hosting Miami and Buffalo for the AFC games, and Detroit is going to be on CBS this year,” North explains. “So right now, your choices for Thanksgiving in Detroit are Miami or Buffalo. Whichever one of those you choose is going to take you down a path of the search tree that is going to be very, very different.”

But things have changed a bit recently. CBS Thanksgiving broadcasts still favor bringing an AFC team into the mold, but it is no longer a certainty. Of the last 20 Thanksgiving Day games on CBS, 16 have included an AFC opponent—but only six of the last 10. Three were an in-division rivalry game, and one was a random Cowboys vs. Panthers game.

Additionally, since the move to the 17-game schedule, the teams with nine home games will host a third opponent from the other conference. This year, in addition to the Dolphins and Bills, the Lions will host the Jacksonville Jaguars as part of their AFC slate. So that gives CBS another Thanksgiving option if they are going to try to stick to having an AFC visiting team.

The Jaguars are the only NFL team who has never played on Thanksgiving, while the Dolphins (2006) and Bills (1994) have played the Lions on the November holiday somewhat recently.

Regardless of what direction the NFL goes in, it appears the schedule-makers will at least try to give Detroit an AFC matchup.