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2018 NFL Season
99th season of the National Football League (NFL)
2018 National Football League season
September 6, 2018 (2018-09-06) - December 30, 2018 (2018-12-30)
The 2018 NFL League year and trading period began on March 14. On March 9, clubs were allowed to exercise options for 2018 on players who have option clauses in their contracts, submit qualifying offers to their pending restricted free agents and submit a Minimum Salary Tender to retain exclusive negotiating rights to their players with expiring 2017 contracts and who have fewer than three accrued seasons of free agent credit. Teams were required to be under the salary cap using the "Top-51" definition (in which the 51 highest paid-players on the team's payroll must have a combined salary cap hit below the actual cap). On March 12, clubs were allowed to contact and enter into contract negotiations with the agents of players who were set to become unrestricted free agents.
Over 550 players were eligible for some form of free agency during the free agency period. Notable players to change teams include:
March 14: Green Bay traded CB Damarious Randall, a 2018 fourth round selection (114th overall), and a 2018 fifth round selection (150th overall) to Cleveland for QB DeShone Kizer, a 2018 fourth round selection (101st overall), and a 2018 fifth round selection (138th overall)
March 22: The New York Giants traded DE Jason Pierre-Paul and their 2018 fourth round selection (102nd overall) to Tampa Bay in exchange for a 2018 third round selection (69th overall) and a 2018 fourth round selection (108th overall).
March 29: Washington traded S Su'a Cravens, a 2018 fourth round selection (113th overall), and a 2018 fifth round selection (149th overall) to Denver in exchange for a 2018 fourth round selection (109th overall), two 2018 fifth round selections (142nd and 163rd overall), and a conditional 2020 selection.
April 3: New England traded WR Brandin Cooks and a 2018 fourth round selection (136th overall) to the Los Angeles Rams for a 2018 first round selection (23rd overall) and a 2018 sixth round selection (198th overall).
C Nick Mangold: Seven-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro (two first-team, one second-team). Played his entire 11-year career with the New York Jets. He had spent the 2017 season out of football after the Jets released him.
OT Joe Thomas: Ten-time Pro Bowler and nine-time All-Pro (seven first-team, two second-team). Played his entire 11-year career for the Cleveland Browns. A deteriorating left knee contributed to Thomas's retirement.
Four referees retired during the 2018 off-season, the most to do so since records on the statistics have been kept.
Ed Hochuli: At the time of his retirement, Hochuli was the league's longest-tenured referee, having served with the league for 28 seasons, 26 as a head referee. He was succeeded by his son, Shawn Hochuli.
Gene Steratore: Steratore spent 15 seasons as an official and was the referee of Super Bowl LII. Steratore was involved in the controversial ruling known as the Calvin Johnson rule, as well as the infamous use of an index card during a game between the Oakland Raiders and Dallas Cowboys. He was one of two officials who also covered NCAADivision I basketball games. Steratore accepted an offer from CBS to fill its rules analyst position, which had been vacant since 2015. Umpire Clay Martin was promoted to referee to replace Steratore.
In total, 10 officials left the league in the offseason, and seven were hired. Four officials were promoted to the referee position.
Down judge Hugo Cruz was fired for performance-related issues culminating with a missed false start during a Week 6 game between the Los Angeles Chargers and Cleveland Browns. It was the first time in the Super Bowl era that an official was dismissed in-season.
The following playing rule changes have been approved by the Competition Committee for the 2018 season:
Make permanent the current rule that changes the spot of the ball after a touchback on a kickoff to the 25-yard line. Prior to 2017, the ball was placed at the 20-yard line.
Update the standards for a "catch" to have:
Two feet down or any body part other than the hands
Control of the ball
Make a "football move" such as making a 3rd step, reaching/extending to the line to gain, tucking the ball away, warding off defensive players, or have the ability to perform such an act.
The rule for receivers who were going to the ground during the catch process has been deleted. This is in response to several issues regarding the "going to the ground" rule, especially catches by Dallas Cowboys WR Dez Bryant in the 2014 NFL playoffs and one by Pittsburgh Steelers TE Jesse James in 2017 that were overturned due to this rule.
Allow a designated member of the officiating department (for 2018, senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron, vice president officiating evaluation and development Wayne Mackie, and vice president of instant replay and administration Russel Yurk) to instruct game officials to disqualify any player who commits a flagrant non-football act on the field for a foul called on the field. This is in response to a situation where New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski intentionally inflicted a late hit on Buffalo Bills defensive back Tre'Davious White causing a concussion to White. Gronkowski was not ejected for the foul on the field, but did receive a one-game suspension after the NFL's review of the play.
Illegally batting a ball on a scrimmage down will incur a loss of down in addition to the previous 10-yard penalty.
In overtime, when a team is ahead by 3 points, a down will run to its conclusion and all applicable points will score, even if there is a loss of possession. Previously, the offense of the trailing team could not legally score if they lost and regained possession and reached the opponent's end zone all on the same play. The rule remains that if there is a double change of possession on a play with one team in the lead, it is the last play of the game.
If a team scores a touchdown on the final play of regulation which gives them the victory, no extra-point conversion try will be needed.
A ball carrier may slide either head first or feet first to be considered giving himself up on the play, and he is afforded all protections previously provided to a runner sliding feet first.
The following bylaws and resolutions were passed:
Make permanent the liberalization of workout rules for draft prospects.
For a one-year trial period, liberalize the rules for re-signing a player on waivers.
Players on injured reserve can be traded.
Players with injuries deemed major can be placed directly on injured reserve without clearing waivers.
The 10-day postseason waiver claiming period has been reduced to 1 day.
Players can be activated from injured reserve after eight games instead of eight weeks.
Teams have seven business days to complete an injury settlement instead of five.
Players in certain reserve list categories cannot be reinstated after a team's week 13 game. This restriction was previously applied to the last 30 days of the regular season.
Clarify roster procedures for players with military obligations.
For a one-year trial period, teams may contact a player who has been publicly announced to be released before the NFL lists the transaction on a Player Personnel Notice.
The following changes to the kickoff rules were approved at the NFL Spring Owners' Meeting on May 23, 2018:
Players are required to line up for the kickoff as follows:
Five players on the kicking team must be on either side of the kicker
At least two players on each side must be lined up outside of the numbers and at least two additional players on each side must be lined up between the numbers and the hashmarks
Players on the kicking team (excluding the kicker) may only line up within 1 yard of the kickoff spot (the previous limit was 5 yards)
The receiving team must have eight players in a 15-yard "set-up zone" (measured from the receiving team's side of the restraining line 10 yards from the kickoff spot)
No wedge blocks. Players would only be able to do a double-team block within the "set-up zone".
Blocking is prohibited inside the restraining zone (10 yards from the kickoff spot) until the ball touches the ground or is touched in the field of play.
Once a kickoff lands in the end zone, it would become an automatic touchback. Players will no longer have to "kneel" in the end zone to stop the play.
Any player(s) being disqualified are subject to replay review.
It is now a foul (15 yards) for players to lower their helmet to initiate and make contact with an opposing player. The fouling player risks disqualification if:
Player lowers his helmet to establish a linear body posture prior to initiating or making contact with the helmet
Player delivering the blow had an unobstructed path to his opponent
Contact was clearly avoidable (player delivering the blow had other options)
The chain crew was reduced by one member; the "X" marker, usually unseen on television but used to mark the start of an offensive drive, was eliminated.
In response to the recent National Anthem protests in the league the past two seasons, any player or staff member who is on the field during the performance of "The Star-Spangled Banner" must stand for the duration of the performance. Such players and staff members are not required to be on the field at that time and may wait in the locker room as an alternative. The NFL will not directly fine offending players or staff members for defying the rule, instead fining the teams, who will in turn have power to fine the players or staff members at their own discretion. The National Football League Players Association filed a grievance with the league over the policy on July 11.
The following people associated with the NFL (or AFL) died in 2018.
Jim Taylor: The nine-year veteran of the Green Bay Packers was the first member of the team's 1961-1968 dynasty to be inducted into the Hall as a 1976 inductee. The fullback, who played from 1958 through the first World Championship, appeared in five Pro Bowls, was named first or second team All-Pro six times, and led the league in both rushing touchdowns and yards in 1962, leading the latter category in 1961 as well. He finished his career on the inaugural roster of the New Orleans Saints. He died October 13, aged 83.
Bob McNair: McNair died November 23 at the age of 81. He had owned the Houston Texans from the time of its establishment in 2002 until his death. His son Cal McNair and his wife Janice McNair are in line to take over as owners, and the government of Harris County, Texas' minority stake in the team would preclude any incoming owner from relocating the team.
Alex Spanos :Spanos owned the Chargers from 1984 until his death; he had been suffering from senile dementia since 2008 and was not directly involved in the team's relocation from San Diego back to Los Angeles, which was largely orchestrated by his son Dean Spanos, who will head the family consortium that inherits the team. Spanos died October 9, aged 95.
The 2018 regular season's 256 games were played over a 17-week schedule that began on September 6. Each of the league's 32 teams played a 16-game schedule, with one bye week for each team. The regular season concluded with a full slate of 16 games on December 30, all of which were intra-division matchups, as it had been since 2010.
Under the NFL's current scheduling formula, each team plays the other three teams in its own division twice. In addition, a team plays against all four teams in one other division from each conference. The final two games on a team's schedule are against the two remaining teams in the same conference that finished in the same position in their respective divisions (e.g., the team that finished fourth in its division will play all three other teams in the conference that also finished fourth). The division pairings for 2018 will be as follows:
When the entire season schedule was released on April 19, the league announced flexible scheduling for Saturday games in weeks 15 and 16. The final times of these games were announced on October 24:
In week 16, two games were moved to Saturday, December 22 on NFL Network: The Redskins-Titans game started at 4:30 p.m. EST, while the Ravens-Chargers game started at 8:20 p.m. EST. This marked the first time that games were rescheduled to a different day (excluding games rescheduled due to severe weather).
In-season scheduling changes
Week 7: The Bengals-Chiefs game was flexed from 1:00 p.m. ET on CBS to the 8:20 p.m. EDT slot on NBC, replacing the originally-scheduled Rams-49ers game, which was moved to 4:25 p.m. ET on CBS. This is the earliest NBC flex game since NBC Sports took over the Sunday Night package in 2006.
Week 10: The Dolphins-Packers game was moved from 1:00 p.m. ET to 4:25 p.m. ET on CBS. Additionally, the Cardinals-Chiefs game, originally scheduled at 1:00 p.m. ET on Fox, was cross-flexed to CBS, in the same time slot.
Week 11: The Vikings-Bears game was flexed from 1:00 p.m. ET on Fox to 8:20 p.m. ET on NBC, replacing the originally scheduled Steelers-Jaguars game which was moved to 1:00 p.m. ET on CBS. Additionally, the Eagles-Saints game was moved from 1:00 p.m. ET to 4:25 p.m. ET on Fox.
Week 12: The Dolphins-Colts game was moved from 1:00 p.m. ET to 4:25 p.m. ET on CBS.
Week 13: The Chargers-Steelers game originally scheduled for 1:00 p.m. ET on CBS was flexed to 8:20 p.m. ET on NBC, replacing the originally scheduled 49ers-Seahawks game which was moved to 4:25 p.m. ET on Fox.
Week 14: The Rams-Bears game originally scheduled for 1:00 p.m. ET on Fox was flexed to 8:20 p.m. ET on NBC, replacing the originally scheduled Steelers-Raiders game which was moved to 4:25 p.m. ET on Fox.
Week 15: The Redskins-Jaguars game originally scheduled at 1:00 p.m. ET on Fox was cross-flexed to CBS, in the same time slot.
Week 16: The Giants-Colts game originally scheduled at 1:00 p.m. ET on Fox was cross-flexed to CBS, in the same time slot.
^ abKansas City finished ahead of LA Chargers based on division games.
^ abNew England finished ahead of Houston based on head-to-head victory.
^ abcDenver finished ahead of Cincinnati and Buffalo based on strength of victory. Cincinnati finished ahead of Buffalo based on record vs. common opponents. Cincinnati's cumulative record against Baltimore, Indianapolis, the Los Angeles Chargers and Miami was 3-2, compared to Buffalo's 1-4 cumulative record against the same four teams.
^ abNY Jets finished ahead of Oakland based on strength of victory.
^When breaking ties for three or more teams under the NFL's rules, they are first broken within divisions, then comparing only the highest ranked remaining team from each division.
^ abNew Orleans finished ahead of LA Rams based on head-to-head victory.
^ abcAtlanta finished ahead of Washington based on head-to-head victory. Atlanta finished ahead of Carolina based on head-to-head sweep. Washington finished ahead of Carolina based on head-to-head victory.
^ abNY Giants finished ahead of Tampa Bay based on head-to-head victory.
^When breaking ties for three or more teams under the NFL's rules, they are first broken within divisions, then comparing only the highest ranked remaining team from each division.
The 2018 playoffs began on the weekend of January 5-6, 2019, with the Wild Card Playoff round. The four winners of those playoff games visited the top two seeds in each conference in the Divisional round games the weekend of January 12-13. The winners of those games advanced to the Conference Championship games on January 20. (In the event that both Los Angeles teams had advanced to their respective conference championships with both teams as the home team, one of the two games would have been postponed to the evening of January 21.) The 2019 Pro Bowl was held at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida on January 27. Super Bowl LIII was held on February 3 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
Tom Brady threw his 500th career touchdown pass, becoming the third quarterback in NFL history to do so (joining Brett Favre and Peyton Manning) and becoming the first to do so playing on one team.
Tom Brady threw a touchdown pass to a 71st different receiver, breaking an NFL record previously held by Vinny Testaverde.
Drew Brees became the NFL's all-time leading passer with 71,941 passing yards, surpassing Brett Favre and Peyton Manning in the process.
Tom Brady became the first quarterback in NFL history to reach 200 regular season wins.
The Kansas City Chiefs scored 51 points in a 54-51 loss to the Los Angeles Rams, the most points ever scored by a losing team in NFL history. The 105-point aggregate total is also the third highest in NFL history.
The Houston Texans won their eighth straight game following an 0-3 start, becoming the first team in NFL history to do so.
Philip Rivers completed 25 consecutive passes to start a game, breaking the record of 22 consecutive completions to start a game previously held by Mark Brunell. This streak also tied Ryan Tannehill's record of 25 consecutive passes at any point in a game.
Phillip Rivers completed 28 out of 29 passes (96.6%), breaking the record for highest completion percentage in a game (minimum 20 attempts). The previous record was held by Kurt Warner who completed 92.3% of his passes.
Derrick Henry became the second player in NFL history to record a 99 yard rushing touchdown, joining Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett who achieved this in 1982.
Tom Brady became the fourth quarterback to reach 70,000 career passing yards.
The Patriots clinched the AFC East for the tenth consecutive season (extending an NFL record for most consecutive years winning any division) and their tenth straight playoff berth, breaking the record of nine straight playoff berths previously held by the Dallas Cowboys (1975-83) and Indianapolis Colts (2002-10).
Zach Ertz set a new NFL record for the most catches in a single season by a tight end with 113, breaking a record previously held by Jason Witten.
Chris Jones recorded a sack in his 11th consecutive game this season, marking a new NFL record.
George Kittle had 1,377 receiving yards on the season, breaking the record for most receiving yards by a tight end previously held by Travis Kelce.
The Patriots defeated the Rams, 13-3, setting a new record for fewest total points (16) scored in a Super Bowl, This record was previously held by Super Bowl VII, in which the Dolphins defeated the Redskins, 14-7 (21 points).
Fox was fired after the final game of the 2017 season, finishing the season with a record of 5-11 (.313) and a cumulative record of 14-34 (.292) with no playoff appearances.
Nagy spent the past five seasons as an offensive assistant with the Kansas City Chiefs, the last two as offensive coordinator; the Bears hired Nagy on January 8 and this will be his first NFL head coaching job.
Caldwell was fired after the final game of the 2017 season, finishing the season with a record of 9-7 (.563) and a cumulative record of 36-28 (.563) with two playoff appearances, but having never won a playoff game as head coach of the Lions. Patricia was hired on February 5, the day after losing Super Bowl LII as the New England Patriots defensive coordinator. He had spent his entire NFL career with the Patriots, starting in 2004 as an offensive assistant before working his way up to defensive coordinator in 2012, winning 3 Super Bowls. This will be his first head coaching job.
Pagano was fired after the final game of the 2017 season, finishing the season with a record of 4-12 (.250), his first losing season as Colts' head coach, and a cumulative record of 53-43 (.552) with three playoff appearances.
On February 6, the Colts announced that they had planned to hire New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels as the team's next head coach, however, McDaniels informed the Colts that he had changed his mind and was returning to the Patriots. The Colts then hired Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich, who was previously a Colts' assistant from 2008-2011. This will be Reich's first head coaching job.
McAdoo became the Giants' head coach in 2016, leading the Giants to a 13-15 (.464) record over parts of two seasons with one playoff appearance. After accruing a 2-10 (.167) record and benching starter Eli Manning during the season, he was fired on December 4, 2017, and replaced in the interim by defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
Del Rio was fired after the 2017 season, finishing the season with a record of 6-10 (.375) and a cumulative record of 25-23 (.521) with one playoff appearance. Gruden, who previously coached the Raiders from 1998 to 2001 and won a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2002, confirmed on-air on January 6, that he would be returning to the team as coach. He had spent the previous nine seasons as an on-air analyst for Monday Night Football.
Mularkey and the Titans agreed to part ways after they "couldn't come to an agreement over the future," two days after the Titans' playoff loss to the Patriots. Mularkey had a cumulative record of 20-21 (.488) with one playoff appearance in parts of three seasons with the Titans and guided Tennessee to back-to-back 9-7 (.563) records in his two years as the team's full-time head coach. Vrabel spent the past three seasons as a defensive assistant with the Houston Texans, the last as defensive coordinator; the Titans hired Vrabel on January 20 and this will be his first NFL head coaching job.
Jackson was fired on October 29, accumulating a 2-5-1 (.313) record during the 2018 season and a 3-36-1 (.088) record for his 2.5-season tenure with the Browns. His dismissal follows a power struggle with offensive coordinator Todd Haley (who was fired at the same time) and the team's 25th consecutive loss away from home; Jackson failed to win a single road game during his tenure and lost every game in 2017. Williams, the team's defensive coordinator, was previously the head coach of the Buffalo Bills from 2001 to 2003, with a record of 17-31 (.354). Jackson currently serves as the Special Assistant to the Head Coach for the Cincinnati Bengals.
McCarthy was fired on December 2, shortly after the Packers loss to the Arizona Cardinals. McCarthy leaves with a record of 135-85-2 with nine playoff appearances and one Super Bowl championship. Philbin, the team's offensive coordinator, was previously the head coach of the Miami Dolphins from 2012-2015, with a record of 24-28 (.462).
Thompson, who had been the team's general manager since 2005, became the team's senior advisor to football operations. Brian Gutekunst, who had been the team's director of player personnel since 2016, was promoted to become the team's new general manager on January 7.
Smith announced that he would take a leave of absence to care for his wife, who is battling breast cancer. He will remain Executive Vice President of Football Operations. Former Buffalo Bills' vice president of player personnel, Brian Gaine, was named the new general manager on January 13, 2018. Previously, Gaine was Texans' director of pro personnel and then director of player personnel from 2014 to 2016.
Having been in the organization since 1994, Reese was the Giants' general manager since 2007, leading them to two Super Bowl championships and several years of success. He was fired on December 4 along with head coach Ben McAdoo. He was replaced in the interim by assistant general manager Kevin Abrams. Dave Gettleman, previously general manager of the Carolina Panthers and a 14-year veteran of the Giants' front office (from 1999 to 2012), was hired on December 28, 2017.
Brandon resigned his position on May 1, 2018. A newspaper report claimed that Brandon was the subject of an internal investigation regarding his personal conduct and workplace behavior, which neither the Bills nor Brandon mentioned in separate statements regarding his departure; Brandon stated he is seeking other opportunities after spending 20 years with the Bills franchise. He was immediately succeeded by co-owner Kim Pegula.
McKenzie was fired on December 10, 2018 after six-plus seasons as Raiders' GM. Herock, current teams' Director of College Scouting, served as the Raiders' interim General Manager until Oakland hired Mike Mayock on December 31, 2018.
On December 17, 2017, Jerry Richardson, the Panthers' founding owner, announced he was putting the team up for sale. Richardson had previously indicated the team would be put up for sale after his death, but Richardson was accused of paying hush money to cover up questionable conduct, including racial slurs and sexually suggestive requests of employees, hastening Richardson's decision. The Panthers' lease on Bank of America Stadium expires after the 2018 season, which would allow any incoming owner to relocate the team out of Charlotte, North Carolina, to another market if they so desired, only being liable for the remaining debt from stadium renovation. At an estimated $35 million, the debt payment would be a small expense compared to the relocation fee the NFL charged for the two teams that relocated in 2016 and 2017. The two most likely candidates to buy the team as of May 2018[update] were David Tepper, a hedge fund manager with a higher net worth and a minority stake in the Pittsburgh Steelers but fewer ties to Charlotte; and Ben Navarro, a financial services CEO based in Charlotte who had the backing of Richardson's only living son. Tepper was announced as the new owner on May 16, with the announcement coming in time for the league to vote on his bid at the owners meeting on May 19. The sale closed on July 9 with Richardson-era chief operating officer Tina Becker (who ran the franchise after Richardson stepped away from operations) resigning. Tepper immediately stated the franchise would retain the Carolina Panthers name for the time being, but that a new stadium would likely be necessary; he stated that he hoped to build said stadium in Charlotte but would not guarantee the team remains there, claiming he did not know enough about the situation to guarantee the team stays in the Charlotte area.
The Raiders, prior to the 2017 season, committed to relocating to Las Vegas, Nevada, once a new stadium is constructed for them in 2020. In 2016, the Raiders signed a three-year extension with the Oakland Coliseum. The Raiders could choose to stay in the Oakland Coliseum for 2019 with another year-to-year extension or move to Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas, which is undersized but (because of the Los Angeles Chargers' use of the even smaller StubHub Center) would not be the smallest stadium in the NFL. Management at the Oakland Coliseum has indicated they are unwilling to extend their agreement with the Raiders after 2018, which could force the team to move to Sam Boyd Stadium in 2019. In order to secure another season in Oakland, California, Coliseum management indicated in September 2017 that the Raiders would need to offer major concessions to compensate for the financial losses the Coliseum incurs by hosting Raiders games.
The Color Rush program was discontinued, and teams were no longer required to wear the special uniforms for Thursday Night Football. Initial plans, which were finalized at the league's owners meeting in May, are for teams to have the option to continue using the existing Nike designs for the program as standard third jerseys.
Chicago Bears: The Bears brought back their orange alternate jerseys that the team wore from 2005-2009 and 2011. The team announced that the orange uniforms will be worn twice in 2018, and the team will use the navy blue "Monsters of the Midway" throwbacks for one game.
Jacksonville Jaguars: On April 19, the Jaguars simplified their uniforms in a similar look they had used before 2013. Gold was also eliminated from their previous jerseys and the gradient black and gold helmet was reverted to an all-black gloss shell.
Los Angeles Rams: On July 27, the Rams announced that due to overwhelming fan demand the NFL relaxed their alternate uniform policy and has permitted them to use their royal blue and yellow throwbacks as their color jerseys for the next two seasons until they present entirely new ones in 2020. When using their white jerseys, the team will still have to use their current set carried over from St. Louis albeit from slight modifications they made to them in 2017.
Miami Dolphins: On April 19, the Dolphins simplified their uniform outlines to take after their classic aqua-and-orange look. Dark blue was removed from everything but the logo. For the second straight year, the Dolphins will wear their official throwback jerseys twice in 2018.
Tennessee Titans: On April 4, the Titans introduced new uniforms. Most prominent among the changes is the helmet, which is changing from the white color the team had used since the 1970s (as the Houston Oilers) to navy blue. The color patterns are also simplified, with a new number typeface inspired both by Greek lettering and the shape of the state of Tennessee.
Pittsburgh Steelers: On May 30, the Steelers unveiled a throwback uniform, that was worn in the late 1970s. Team owner Art Rooney II announced that the team will wear the uniforms for one game.
San Francisco 49ers: On May 23, 49ers unveiled a new all-white throwback uniform, that was worn in 1994, the year the team won its most recent Super Bowl. The team announced that they will be worn for one game.
This will be the fifth year under the current broadcast contracts with ESPN, CBS, Fox, and NBC. This includes "cross-flexing" (switching) Sunday afternoon games between CBS and Fox before or during the season (regardless of the conference of the visiting team). NBC will continue to air Sunday Night Football, the annual Kickoff game, and the primetime Thanksgiving game. ESPN will continue to air Monday Night Football and the Pro Bowl. CBS will broadcast Super Bowl LIII.
On January 31, the NFL announced that Fox had acquired the broadcast television rights to the Thursday Night Football package under a five-year deal (aligned with the remainder of the NFL's current broadcast contracts). Fox aired 11 games, in simulcast with NFL Network, with the remaining games in the package airing exclusively on NFL Network to satisfy its carriage contracts (with local broadcasts syndicated broadcast stations in the markets of the teams in each game). CBS and NBC had made bids to renew their previous contracts (CBS had held the rights since 2014, joined by NBC since 2016), but were reluctant to pay a higher rights fee due to the league's ratings downturn.
The NFL agreed to an extension of its digital rights agreement with Verizon Communications under a 5-year, $2.5 billion deal. Unlike the previous deal, it no longer includes exclusivity for streaming in-market and nationally televised NFL games on mobile devices with screens 7 inches (18 cm) or less in size (such as smartphones), in order to account for changes in viewing habits, but still includes enhanced access to highlights and other digital content for Verizon-owned properties. In addition, Verizon announced that it would no longer make these streams exclusive to Verizon Wireless subscribers, and would leverage its portfolio of media brands (such as Yahoo!, which it acquired in 2017) to distribute them to a larger audience. All of the NFL's current television partners have added mobile streaming rights (which were previously reserved to Verizon) to their existing contracts for the 2018 season, with telecasts becoming available via CBS All Access, the Fox Sports App, the ESPN app, and the NBC Sports app. Under the terms of the agreement, Verizon must give the majority of the advertising revenue to the broadcast partners.
On April 26, 2018, the NFL announced that it had reached a two-year extension of its agreement with Amazon for shared digital rights to the Thursday Night Football games simulcast with Fox, with a 15% increase in rights fees. To fulfill a request that the streams be available freely, the games will also be made available on Twitch, an Amazon-owned streaming service that was originally designed for video game streaming.
Both of the NFL's national radio contracts, Westwood One for English language and Entravision for Spanish language, expired after the 2017 season. Westwood One's parent company Cumulus Media filed for bankruptcy in November 2017 and began terminating national broadcast contracts and sports agreements in January 2018, putting any contract extensions on hold. The company emerged from bankruptcy on June 4, 2018.
With the release of the 2018 schedule, NFL.com listed ESPN Deportes Radio (which had shared NFL rights with Entravision in 2017 and had carried Super Bowl LII) as the league's national Spanish-language broadcaster. The national English-language broadcaster was still identified as Westwood One, which Westwood One has also confirmed; no press release has been issued in regard to a contract extension with that network, and it is unknown when the current arrangement was signed or when it will end. Additionally, Westwood One removed Sunday afternoon games from their package, instead focusing on the primetime matchups as well as the postseason. SportsUSA, Compass and ESPN Radio, which also has broadcast select Sunday afternoon NFL games, will continue to do so. Meanwhile, Entravision extended the Sunday night rights for 3 years, through 2021, and gained two Super Bowls, the entire AFC Playoff package, the Thursday Night Opener, and a Thanksgiving Day game as part of their new deal.
Only one game into the pre-season, Indianapolis Colts announcer Bob Lamey, who had been with the team for most of the time since their 1984 relocation from Baltimore, retired suddenly after a complaint of him using a racial slur in the 1980s was revealed. Sideline reporter Matt Taylor was named his de facto replacement for the season.
Greg Papa, after 21 years calling play-by-play for the Oakland Raiders, joined the San Francisco 49ers as their play-by-play announcer; Papa cited an ongoing feud with Raiders owner Mark Davis for his departure. Replacing Papa with the Raiders is Brent Musburger, who came out of retirement from sports announcing to sign a three-year deal with the team that will see him serve as broadcaster through the team's relocation to Las Vegas (Musburger maintains a side business, the Vegas Sports Information Network, in Las Vegas).
Fox initially had planned to hire a new broadcast team for its Thursday Night Football, making an overture to Peyton Manning to serve as color commentator. Since Manning declined the offer, the network announced that it will be placing its existing lead broadcast team of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman on the package, reducing the number of games the duo will call on Sundays (Buck and Aikman will only call the nationally televised "America's Game of the Week" telecasts on Sundays). A version of Fox NFL Sunday will serve as the lead-in to Thursday Night Football, without Curt Menefee or Jimmy Johnson; the show will instead be hosted by panelist Michael Strahan from New York City, displacing Rich Eisen, the studio host for Thursday night pregame since the package's inception in 2006. Strahan will be joined by fellow Fox colleagues Terry Bradshaw and Howie Long.
In previous seasons, Buck did not call any NFL games during late October, working Major League Baseball playoff games instead. For 2018, Fox coordinated its schedule with MLB so that none of its scheduled broadcasts would land on a Thursday (Fox carries the NLCS and the World Series), so Buck will continue to broadcast both sports, crisscrossing the country in seven cities over a 22-day period.
On radio, Kurt Warner replaced Boomer Esiason as the color commentator for Westwood One's Monday Night Football broadcasts, after Esiason had filled the role for the previous 18 years. Esiason will continue as a studio host for CBS.
In a surprise announcement made two days before its first game, Amazon announced it would provide its own broadcast team for its eleven games, with Hannah Storm and Andrea Kremer serving as the lead broadcast team. The announcement makes Kremer the first-ever female color analyst for an NFL game, the first time a game has been broadcast with no men involved in the broadcast team, and the first time since the 1987 season of ESPN Sunday Night NFL that no former coach or player served on the broadcast team in any capacity. Amazon will offer the standard Fox broadcast team, a British broadcasting team, and a Spanish language feed as alternate audio choices.
Primetime game time shifts
The kick-off times for all three primetime series were moved up to start 5 to 15 minutes earlier to facilitate local newscasts and SportsCenter to start earlier and cause less disruption to late night television schedules in the Eastern and Central time zones. Thursday and Sunday Night games now kick off at 8:20 p.m. ET, while Monday Night games now kick off at 8:15 p.m. ET.
Most watched regular season games
After two years of decline, television viewership for the NFL slightly rebounded in 2018, with ratings up 3% as a whole through the first ten weeks of the season, despite a major decline (16%) in other programming on the same networks. The season finished with ratings up 5% compared to 2017.
^Pergament, Alan (October 29, 2018). "Bills fans should root for 'Tess Effect' on Monday Night Football". The Buffalo News. Archived from the original on October 29, 2018. Retrieved 2018. We hired them to be Booger McFarland and Jason Witten. We hired Booger to be a strongly opinionated irreverent, outrageous character who authentically sounds like a guy who grew up in the country of Winnsboro, Louisiana, sounds like a guy who played nose tackle and doesn't really give a ... about what he says or who cares what he is thought of and just be your funny, irreverent, football smart, savvy self. And we hired Jason Witten to be Jason Witten, a guy who just played 15 years in the league at the highest level and future Hall of Famer and not try to role play.