Week 16 (December 23):
- Tentative game: Kansas City @ Seattle
- Prospects: Uh-oh. The Chiefs won and the other three AFC division leaders all lost, meaning not only could the Chiefs lock up the AFC West with a Thursday-night win over the Chargers, they would need only one loss each by the Patriots and Texans to sew up the #1 seed before Sunday night. For much of the season, particularly the last few weeks, it looked like how much these two teams still had to play for would outweigh the lack of market size and chance for the Seahawks to catch the Rams for the division compared to Eagles-Rams the previous week, but now this game looks to be in some real danger.
- Likely protections: Steelers-Saints (CBS, confirmed) and probably nothing, but if something, Bucs-Cowboys or Vikings-Lions (FOX). (This assumes Fox couldn’t protect any of the games singled out for a potential move to Saturday before the season.)
- Other possible games mentioned on last week’s Watch and their records: Texans (9-4)-Eagles (6-7), Bucs (5-8)-Cowboys (8-5).
- Impact of Monday Night Football: It would really help the tentative for the Seahawks to win and keep the game from getting further lopsided. A Seahawks loss would make the game more lopsided than Texans-Eagles while putting the Seahawks only a game ahead of the Eagles.
- Analysis: The biggest point in the tentative’s favor has always been the lack of viable alternatives; the strongest game on paper, Texans-Eagles, is only even a viable option if I’ve been wrong about the London game maxing the Eagles out on primetime appearances, and the second choice, Bucs-Cowboys, may well have been protected. Both games involve teams below .500, and the Bucs’ loss might foreclose them being any sort of real factor in the playoff race (were it not for the Lions they’d be losing a tiebreaker to the freaking Giants whose season was thought to be a disaster); meanwhile the Cowboys need only one win or losses by both Philadelphia and Washington to clinch the NFC East, and while they could catch the Bears for the three seed, nonetheless they might end up not having much more to play for than the Chiefs. Texans-Eagles remains a real concern, though. Even with the Chiefs potentially having nothing to play for, it’d be hard to justify flexing out Chiefs-Seahawks for a game with teams each two games worse than their respective teams in the tentative and where the better team is only a game better than the tentative’s worse team, but if the Seahawks lose? The league would have to seriously think about it… if it weren’t for the possibility that the Eagles’ Week 17 trip to the nation’s capital could decide a wild card spot, potentially conditional on the result of the Texans-Eagles game. Even then, though, I’m not sure the league would be thinking that far ahead, or if they are that it’d be worth the risk of putting on a Chiefs team already resting for the playoffs.
- Final prediction: Houston Texans @ Philadelphia Eagles (if the Eagles aren’t maxed out on primetime appearances and the Seahawks lose tonight), Kansas City Chiefs @ Seattle Seahawks (no change) (if either of those scenarios doesn’t hold up).
- Actual selection: Kansas City Chiefs @ Seattle Seahawks (no change). This doesn’t necessarily mean the Eagles are maxed out after all; besides the Week 17 scheduling considerations I already mentioned, Chiefs-Seahawks might have to go to the late game of the CBS doubleheader, where Steelers-Saints is already supposed to be the showcase game and Chiefs-Seahawks would take away from that by being another matchup between playoff teams.