Week 16 (December 26)
- Tentative game: San Diego @ Cincinnati
- Prospects: 7-6 v. 2-11; it looks like the T.Ocho experiment isn’t working out, meaning the Chargers’ late-season surge is only serving to make this game lopsided, and the loss to the Raiders just makes it look even worse. Everyone from ESPN’s “Mike and Mike in the Morning” to ProFootballTalk has treated this flex is inevitable. But I’d like to ask them a question: If you can’t have a New York team, what do you replace it with?
- Protected games: Jets-Bears (CBS) and Giants-Packers (FOX).
- Other possible games mentioned on last week’s Watch and their records: Seahawks (6-7)-Bucs (7-6), Chiefs (8-5)-Titans (5-8), Redskins (5-8)-Jags (8-5), Colts (7-6)-Raiders (6-7), Vikings (5-7)-Eagles (9-4), and Ravens (8-4)-Browns (5-8).
- Impact of Monday Night Football: Both the Vikings and Ravens play separate games Monday night. But Vikings-Eagles’ chances may depend as much on whether Brett Favre plays as the actual result of the game.
- Analysis: The only alternatives involve teams below .500. With the NFC Worst’s weakness, Seahawks-Bucs has some of the biggest playoff implications, along with Colts-Raiders. Colts-Raiders has the most name value, but it would max the Colts out, and Titans-Colts Week 17 could be important – not to mention the “are the Colts slipping?” meme. As for Seahawks-Bucs, Rams-Seahawks Week 17 is even more likely to be important, and besides the unattractiveness of the idea of having the same team two weeks in a row, such a flex could force the NFL to take an AFC game Week 17; this same problem also afflicts Vikings-Eagles.
The large number of tight races means maybe the NFL doesn’t care much about the CBS-Fox balance, but you can’t rely on any race to still be tight Week 17, and certainly for any game to still be relevant in primetime, especially in the AFC where four teams seem to have a stranglehold on the playoffs with only two divisions really questionable (though the Jets may be opening the way for a different wild card team); what if the Chargers-Broncos game turns out to be win-and-you’re-in for the Chargers, potentially rendering Chiefs-Raiders irrelevant?
Still, the NFL can’t possibly keep a game as bad as Chargers-Bengals, right? Well… last year the NFL kept a (through 12 weeks) 10-1 v. 4-7 game (Vikings-Panthers) because of the name value of the 10-1 team. These two teams are worse, but the Chargers’ hard charge is still on, and they are still both name teams (yes, even the Bengals with T.Ocho). The Chargers aren’t quite as name as some others, but the NFL isn’t looking at the most attractive options. Seahawks-Bucs, Redskins-Jaguars, and Vikings-Eagles are CBS-to-Fox flexes that could restrict the NFL Week 17, Colts-Raiders could turn out to be a dog and also restrict the NFL Week 17, no one will watch Chiefs-Titans and it might be irrelevant by game time anyway, and the Browns, unlike the Bengals, don’t have the name value to overlook their bad season, and they didn’t do what I told them to do last week and win.
The NFL’s decision may be as much motivated by the situation Week 17 as the situation Week 16, and I suspect they would much rather have an NFC game given the choice, ruling out an NFC game this week. Bears-Packers and Giants-Redskins are too much name games, Bucs-Saints is also attractive, and if all else fails it’s looking increasingly likely Rams-Seahawks will meet the NFL’s criteria for a Week 17 Sunday Night game. What are the chances, then, that the NFL wants to play Colts-Titans Week 17? Well, if the Colts beat the Jags next week it creates a true tie in the division as far as record and division record are concerned, meaning if both teams win or lose Week 16 Indy only gets a win-and-you’re-in, lose-and-you’re-out game if the Jags win earlier in the day (Indy has the common games edge).
But if the Jags win… the Jets really made the NFL’s decision a lot harder, since the Colts might not be out of the running for the wild card. The Colts would be 7-7 with two to play and an off chance at a win-and-you’re-in game if they win Week 16 and the Jags lose, but their chances at overtaking the Jets would depend heavily on tiebreakers and the Jets losing both games, so they would also want the Ravens to collapse to have the best shot. So if the Ravens lose, the NFL will be very wary of picking Colts-Raiders; I don’t know if the NFL has any general misgivings about ruling out any one Week 17 game, but I now suspect that a Ravens win would make the tradeoff between that and the consequences of a CBS-to-Fox flex too much to bear. (If the Raiders are still in it Week 16, the NFL could also preclude itself from picking any AFC West game Week 17; they like to make that decision before the Sunday Night game is over. In that sense, the Raiders’ loss made their decision-making process a bit easier.)
What does the NFL go with if the Ravens lose? Unless the NFL wants to pick a Fox game, that leaves them with Chiefs-Titans and Ravens-Browns, both involving 5-8 teams. If the desire to have Chiefs-Raiders available Week 17 plays a role in precluding Colts-Raiders, the same desire will also rule out Chiefs-Titans, and the Browns have basically zero playoff hopes (can’t pass the Steelers and have to make up too much ground for the wild card), so why pick a game involving them when you already have such a team in the tentative game?
But what if I’ve been misled about (or misinterpreted) the 22-20 rule? I’m not sure it improves the situation much; the NFL definitely wants to make sure that, if they have to pick Rams-Seahawks Week 17, they’re able to. That leaves Redskins-Jags and Vikings-Eagles, which could also both involve 5-8 teams. I don’t think the Jags can have a win-and-you’re-in, lose-and-you’re-out game Week 17, so that game is certainly a possibility, but the Redskins basically have no shot at the playoffs anyway so the only edge it has over Ravens-Browns is the name team factor of the Redskins, and the Jags don’t have the same name team factor. As for Vikings-Eagles, picking it maxes the Eagles out, so wave bye-bye to Eagles-Cowboys in that instance; the Eagles are far from safe in the playoff race, as they need to shake the Giants for the division and a good loss could put them in jeopardy of being out of the wild card. On the other hand, without such a loss it’s hard to imagine a win-and-you’re-in, lose-and-you’re-out game that isn’t dependent on what the Giants do earlier in the day, so…
- Final prediction: Minnesota Vikings @ Philadelphia Eagles (if Brett Favre plays Monday night and there is no 22-20 rule); Indianapolis Colts @ Oakland Raiders (if the Ravens win); Washington Redskins @ Jacksonville Jaguars (if the Ravens lose and there is no 22-20 rule); San Diego Chargers @ Cincinnati Bengals (no change) (if the Ravens lose and there is a 22-20 rule). You heard it here first.