Lions take step back on national stage

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Cleveland, Jacksonville, Tennessee, San Diego and Detroit.

The Lions are now among the bottom-feeders when it comes to national prime-time television.

The four teams from the AFC and the Lions are the only teams in the NFL with one night prime-time television game this season.

With the recent increase in Thursday night games, all teams are guaranteed one prime-time game each season.

The Lions, however, don’t have a Thursday night game — their lone mid-week matchup is against the Vikings on Thanksgiving Day. The only night game for Detroit is Week 16 — Monday, Dec. 26 — at Dallas.

That gives the Lions two nationally televised games after having six last year. They have 13 games kicking off at 1 p.m., which is more than most teams (the Browns lead with 15).

In terms of prime-time games, the most popular teams are the Patriots, Jets, Texans, Broncos, Giants, Cowboys, Packers, Panthers and Seahawks — all with five. Five is the maximum number of prime-time games teams are allowed, but a team can have a sixth for a flex game (Weeks 10-15 and 17).

“Piecing together a 256-game schedule is a complex and comprehensive process with a multitude of factors to consider,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in an email to a question about the scheduling for the Lions.

For the Lions, the lack of national demand is a change from 2015 when they had four night games.

Following an 11-5 finish and postseason berth in 2014, the Lions looked like a team on the rise. But they started 0-5 last season and finished 7-9.

The perceived lack of national respect shouldn’t come as a surprise. The NFL rewarded the Lions with more prime-time games the last two times they made the postseason — and penalized a poor season with fewer night games.

The Lions had four night games in 2012 after they went 10-6 and reached the playoffs in 2011.

In 2012, the Lions went 4-12 and played one night game in 2013. After a 7-9 finish in 2013, the Lions had one prime-time game in 2014.

Prime-time players

The number of times teams are on national TV in prime time this season:

Five: Carolina, Dallas, Denver, Green Bay, Houston, New England, N.Y. Giants, N.Y. Jets, Seattle

Four: Arizona, Chicago, Cincinnati, Minnesota, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh

Three: Indianapolis, Kansas City, Oakland, Washington

Two: Atlanta, Baltimore, Buffalo, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, San Francisco, Tampa Bay

One: Cleveland, Detroit, Jacksonville, San Diego, Tennessee