Week 15 (December 19):
- Tentative game: Green Bay @ New England
- Prospects: 9-2 v. 8-4. No longer looking like a potential Super Bowl preview, but the Packers prevented it from getting any more lopsided, so still a decent bet to keep its spot. No other game has a shot if the tentative game bias is as I suspect.
- Protected games: Jets-Steelers (CBS) and Eagles-Giants (FOX).
- Other possible games mentioned on last week’s Watch and their records: Saints (9-3)-Ravens (8-4), Jags (7-5)-Colts (6-6), and Falcons (10-2)-Seahawks (6-6).
- Impact of Monday Night Football: Whether or not the Patriots win will actually have a big impact on how the tentative, in isolation, is seen. The Pats lose, it’s a good game at 9-3 v. 8-4 that isn’t lopsided, but not exactly the Super Bowl preview it seemed like earlier in the season, and in fact both teams will be looking like wild card contenders more than everything else. The Pats win, it’s a little lopsided at 10-2 v. 8-4, but it still has a little bit of the aura of a titanic clash.
- Analysis: The Ravens loss is the best thing that could have happened to the tentative. Had the Ravens won and the Pats lost, it would look like the Ravens were going to get a first-round bye and the Pats wouldn’t. Combine that with the Packers’ struggles and an open question whether the defending champs are better than the best record in the NFC, and few people would pick Packers-Pats ahead of Saints-Ravens, and the NFL’s tentative game bias would be tested like never before. Instead, the Packers did their part as well, and a Pats loss would give both games the same pair of records, which always goes to the tentative. Would a Pats win make the game lopsided enough for the NFL to consider a flex despite the good records? Don’t count on it.
- Final prediction: Green Bay Packers @ New England Patriots (no change).
- Actual selection: Green Bay Packers @ New England Patriots (matches prediction, no change).