Week 7 (October 21):
- Tentative game: LA Rams @ San Francisco
- Prospects: 5-0 v. 1-4. It’s surprising to me that the Niners received not one but two SNF games to begin with; typically a team with high hopes and an exciting offense keyed by a young star play-making quarterback but coming off a mediocre season gets a couple of MNF games but doesn’t really get the SNF treatment unless they’re the biggest of big names like the Giants or Cowboys (thinking of the Panthers in Cam Newton’s sophomore season). The Niners are a big-market team with a lot of history and a sizable fanbase, but outside the Jim Harbaugh era haven’t been relevant this century. In any case, with Jimmy Garoppalo out for the season look for the Niners’ other SNF game to be flexed out, and with their opponents for this game being one of the league’s two unbeatens and with the Niners coming off handing the last winless team in the league their first win, this sure looks like the sort of potential disaster that would call for the first early flex.
- Possible alternatives and their records: CBS: Bengals (4-1)-Chiefs (5-0), Patriots (3-2)-Bears (3-1), Cowboys (2-3)-Redskins (2-1). FOX: Saints (3-1)-Ravens (3-2), Browns (2-2-1)-Buccaneers (2-2).
- Impact of Monday Night Football: Well, the Saints are playing, but I’m not sure the outcome would mean much for the value of their game.
- Predicted protections: Cowboys-Indians (CBS). For Fox, see below.
- Analysis: This is going to be an interesting case study in the league’s thought process regarding the early flex, and possibly in whether I have the league’s rules wrong. Earlier in the week a Saints beat writer tweeted to “look for the Saints-Ravens game to be possibly flexed to NBC“. That surprised me, because by my reckoning the Eagles are maxed out on primetime appearances with their London game on NFL Network, meaning Saints-Ravens would be the only game Fox would need to protect (as opposed to Panthers-Eagles). Despite only having one loss between them Bengals-Chiefs does not really have the sort of name value the league would like, but after a Twitter conversation with a Bears fan earlier in the week I was leaning towards Pats-Bears as the most likely option, though it would max the Pats out on primetime appearances. Possibly relevant here is that most of the early flex period falls in October and thus overlaps with the baseball playoffs, and just as the league tended to schedule teams in markets that weren’t particularly baseball hotbeds for at least the first few years it went up against the World Series (the Saints-Colts game that gave birth to the early flex to begin with pitted two teams from markets without MLB teams), so the league may be reticent to risk putting a Patriots game against a potential ALCS Game 7 at Fenway. (Also relevant is that next week’s SNF game pits the Pats and Chiefs, which would make the league reticent to put in either significant CBS game and so have either team on SNF in consecutive weeks.)
On Sunday the same beat writer wondered whether “the Ravens just messed this up“, so it’s possible this was always predicated on the game being 4-1 v. 4-1 and the league wanting to rescue the game from singleheader purgatory, as it’s currently scheduled as a 4:05 ET game even though it could conceivably move to 1. (If it were moved to 1, Browns-Bucs or Lions-Dolphins could replace it at 4:05; Panthers-Eagles or Vikings-Jets would result in big NFC East markets being blacked out from seeing Cowboys-Indians, and the former means there’s only so much distribution Saints-Ravens would gain by moving to 1. But if it were moved to Sunday night, Rams-Niners would conveniently slot in to replace it at 4:05.) Given some of the constraints I identified, if the league were to shy away from flexing in Saints-Ravens or Fox stood its ground on keeping it, honestly the most likely outcome in that scenario might be this game keeping its spot; it is a rivalry game pitting two big markets, after all. (If I’m wrong about the Eagles being maxed out, Panthers-Eagles seems iffy with the Eagles below .500 and not looking like last year’s Super Bowl team regardless of who’s at quarterback.) I’m sorely tempted to forego a prediction at all, but:
- Final prediction: New Orleans Saints @ Baltimore Ravens (assuming Fox is convinced to relinquish its right to protect it, no change otherwise).