Week 16 (December 27):
- Tentative game: Pittsburgh @ Baltimore
- Prospects: 8-5 v. 4-9. One of the NFL’s better rivalries, but not in the best shape right now with the Ravens eliminated from the playoffs.
- Likely protections: Patriots-Jets (CBS) and Packers-Cardinals or Panthers-Falcons (FOX).
- Other possible games mentioned on last week’s Watch and their records: Packers (9-4)-Cardinals (11-2), Panthers (13-0)-Falcons (6-7), Giants (5-7)-Vikings (8-5), Bears (5-8)-Bucs (6-7), Colts (6-7)-Dolphins (5-7), Cowboys (4-9)-Bills (6-7).
- Impact of Monday Night Football: The winner goes to 6-7 and makes their respective game at least a little more palatable, but I’m not sure it matters.
- Analysis: Well, I still don’t quite know what happened to put Cardinals-Eagles on SNF Week 15, but I’ve gotten enough of an idea, and thought through the implications of this week more, that I can actually make a semi-informed prediction about this week. The key is that the NFL probably wants to avoid a repeat of the Bears-Eagles fiasco from two years ago, when the loser of the SNF game was guaranteed to be in a division title game but the NFL wanted to announce the Week 17 game by halftime.They’d prefer a game with no impact on the Week 17 prospects of any game, and the only games that fit the bill are Bears-Bucs, Colts-Dolphins, and the tentative. (The NFL may want to hold Bucs-Panthers in reserve for the undefeated factor.) This is where the Cardinals-Eagles flex comes in, because the only way I can even begin to make sense of why it would be picked over Texans-Colts is if the NFL is hard up against the balance of primetime games taken from Fox and CBS and absolutely had to take a Fox game, and even then I’m not sure you’d take Cardinals-Eagles unless you had the same constraint this week as well (especially given the weakness of the Week 17 AFC options). Given the Bears’ weakness and the Panthers’ close calls and likelihood not to be playing for anything but an unbeaten season by Week 17 I wouldn’t be totally surprised by Panthers-Falcons, but…
- Final prediction: Chicago Bears @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
- Actual selection: New York Giants @ Minnesota Vikings (if the Giants win tonight), Pittsburgh Steelers @ Baltimore Ravens (no change) (if the Dolphins win tonight). I guess the NFL is comfortable with the possibility Vikings-Packers’ prospects will depend on what the Vikings do, and it probably is the best option if you ignore Week 17 implications, but looking at that other option, so much for my Fox-CBS balance theory.