Yardbarker NFL writers Michael Tunison and Chris Mueller address some of the hottest issues in the league. This week’s topic: Which games in the final weeks of the regular season are most likely to be flexed into a prime-time slot?
Tunison: Flex scheduling technically goes into effect beginning in Week 5, though I have a hard time remembering it ever being used that early in a season. That’s most likely because it’s still somewhat unclear at that point which teams are good and which aren’t. And even if certain expected contenders get off to poor starts, there’s plenty of time to reverse course. Now that we’re into the back half of November, it’s the peak period for games being shifted around to get the most enticing matchups into the most prominent time slot: Sunday night.
The next two Sunday night games are Packers-49ers and Patriots-Texans, so those are safe where they are. According to the NFL, the flex announcement must come at least 12 days before game day.
Week 15 seems like the first pressing need for flex scheduling on the horizon. As it stands, the Sunday night game is Vikings at Chargers, a lackluster affair on account of Los Angeles being woefully out of contention. I suppose it’s possible the Chargers (4-7) could win the next two after their Week 12 bye to make things more interesting, but given that they’ve lost their past two, I have my doubts. Even if they do win, Rams at Cowboys looks to be a much more consequential contest. The only danger with that is that the Rams are on “Sunday Night Football” the week before against Seattle, and because their offense is far less exciting than it has been the past few years, back-to-back weeks of them in prime time might be more than some fans are willing to stomach.
Mueller: Count me among those tired of seeing the Rams play in prime time. I’m just sort of depressed when I see them on the screen. DT Aaron Donald, the best player in the sport, is still a lot of fun, but watching such a high-flying offense get grounded so suddenly and decisively is a downer.
In that spirit, let’s get that Rams-Seahawks game in Week 14 out of prime time. Sure, it might have significant consequences, particularly for Los Angeles, but I’d much rather see those teams play an innocuous 4:05 ET game. Saints-49ers, currently languishing as part of the early slate, deserves to be a prime-time game. The stakes, the teams involved, and the setting make it a winner on multiple levels.
If the Saints (8-2) and 49ers (9-1) keep winning, their battle could determine home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. The Saints have plenty of Q-rating with the average football fan, mostly because of Drew Brees, but also because they’ve been good enough for long enough that casual fans care about them. Plus, there’s the whole vibe of a Superdome crowd. The place pops on television, and some of the league’s most rabid fans will be even more keyed up if the eyes of the nation are trained on the Big Easy.
If that doesn’t suit you, let’s scrap Chiefs-Bears in Week 16 — Chicago’s offense should be seen by as few people as possible — and go with a classic rivalry: Cowboys-Eagles. With each team playing a divisional dreg to close the season the following week, this game in Philadelphia could be a de facto playoff game. The NFC East is only getting one team to the postseason unless something unusual happens, and right now these teams are separated by just a game. A lubricated Philly crowd, Dak Prescott versus Carson Wentz, plenty of tension, and the distinct possibility that Santa Claus might get booed — what’s not to like?