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Programming for NFL pregame shows seems limitless

MIAMI — There is no limit, apparently.

No limit to the amount of time spent, or programming hours allocated, to discussing NFL games before the games even begin on Sundays.

Apparently, two 60-minute pregame shows on CBS and Fox, a three-hour gabfest on ESPN, a two-hour fantasy football analysis on ESPN2 and a six-hour marathon on NFL Network are not enough to properly prepare viewers for a day of watching NFL games on the couch.

And so three other cable networks also are joining in, two this year, one next.

CBS Sports Network’s new football gabfest assuredly has the quirkiest name: That Other Pregame Show. It will air from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Sunday and oddly will compete with the final hour of CBS’ pregame show, which makes little sense.

During the first three hours, some members of the CBS cast (including Bill Cowher, Dan Marino and Boomer Esiason) occasionally will drop in.

Fox Sports 1, which launched Aug. 17, will counter with Fox NFL Kickoff from 11 a.m. to noon, with former NFL stars Randy Moss, Brian Urlacher and others. And NBC Sports Network plans to debut its own pregame show next season.

Of course, we’ve long since passed the point of oversaturation with pre-game shows. Some serious fans don’t watch any of them. But NFL pregames are generally cheap to produce, attract higher ratings than virtually anything else that could realistically be programmed during those time slots, and give the networks a chance to promote their talent and their brand.

At their best, they give us cogent analysis (thanks largely to Jimmy Johnson, Howie Long, Ron Jaworski, Tony Dungy, Tom Jackson and Esiason, primarily, among others) and creative or compelling features or athlete profiles (ESPN’s stable of reporters and NFL Network’s Andrea Kremer consistently do the best work in that regard).

At their worst, they waste our time with frat-party shenanigans and game-pick segments when the analysts often shout out winners either without providing an explanation or simply offering an obvious one.

A look at what to expect from the network rights-holders this season:

CBS

What’s on: Sunday road games of AFC teams, plus Oakland-Dallas on Thanksgiving.

What’s new: Nothing.

Announcing pairings: Jim Nantz, Phil Simms; Greg Gumbel, Dan Dierdorf; Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts; Marv Albert, Rich Gannon; Kevin Harlan, Solomon Wilcots; Bill Macatee, Steve Tasker; Spero Dedes, Steve Beuerlein.

Comment: CBS has better depth of game announcers than Fox - to the point that No. 4 game analyst Gannon would be the second-best analyst if he worked for Fox.

FOX

What’s on: Sunday road games of NFC teams, plus Green Bay-Detroit on Thanksgiving.

What’s new: New York Mets TV reporter Steve Burkhardt joins Fox veteran and former NFL safety John Lynch on a new broadcast pairing. Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Ronde Barber replaces ex-Rams coach Mike Martz on one of Fox’s regional teams. Erin Andrews joins the Burkhardt/Lynch team as sideline reporter.

Announcing pairings: Joe Buck, Troy Aikman; Burkhardt, Lynch; Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, Tony Siragusa; Thom Brennaman, Brian Billick; Chris Myers, Tim Ryan; Dick Stockton, Barber; Sam Rosen, Heath Evans.

Comment: Burkhardt and Lynch have potential and could emerge as Fox’s No. 2 team and earn a playoff assignment if they perform up to expectations.

NBC

What’s on: Sunday night games, plus Baltimore-Denver to open the season on Thursday, Sept. 5; and Pittsburgh-Baltimore on Thanksgiving.

What’s new: Former Kansas City Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli joins the studio show with regular appearances.

Announcing pairing: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth.

Comment: NBC will again have a flexible schedule element for the final seven Sundays. Beginning in 2014, flexible scheduling will allow the NFL to shift Sunday afternoon games between CBS and Fox, occasionally, so better games can have larger audiences.

ESPN

What’s on: Monday Night Football, including a Week 1 double-header: Philadelphia-Washington and Houston-San Diego.

What’s new: Former Baltimore Ravens star Ray Lewis joins ESPN as a part-time analyst on Sunday Countdown and a regular pre- and post-game analyst on Monday night games.

Announcing pairing: Mike Tirico, Jon Gruden.

Comment: Gruden capably handled sole analyst duties for the first time last season after Jaworski was shifted to the studio. His commentary has become more balanced, but he’s still prone to bursts of praise that seem excessive at times.

NFL Network

What’s on: Thursday night games between Sept. 12 and Dec. 12, except Thanksgiving (when NBC has rights).

What’s new: Nothing.

Announcing pairing: Brad Nessler, Mike Mayock.

Comment: The quality of matchups usually does not measure up to ESPN’s and certainly not NBC’s, because every team is required to have at least one full national game, and NFL Network is always given the teams that do not legitimately warrant prime-time appearances. That’s why NFL Net’s schedule includes Bills-Browns on Oct. 3 and the dreadful Jacksonville Jaguars on Dec. 5, against very much worthy Houston.

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