Week 15 (December 15):
- Tentative game: Minnesota @ LA Chargers
- Prospects: 8-3 v. 4-8 continues to raise concerns about this game being concerningly lopsided. This game is back to having the worst team in any tentative in the flex period.
- Likely protections: Texans-Titans, Jaguars-Raiders, or nothing (CBS) and Rams-Cowboys if anything (FOX).
- Other possible games mentioned on last week’s Watch and their records: Bills (9-3)-Steelers (7-5), Texans (8-4)-Titans (7-5), Seahawks (9-2)-Panthers (5-7), Jaguars (4-8)-Raiders (6-6), Bears (6-6)-Packers (9-3).
- Impact of Monday Night Football: Well, it’s the Vikings and the Seahawks, but their respective games are so lopsided that the loser would be the one whose game would become more likely to be flexed in (or keep its spot in the case of the Vikings).
- Analysis: When an otherwise serviceable tentative in Seahawks-Eagles was flexed out to make way for Packers-Niners, Seahawks fans (and front-office staff) upset at the team moving from a primetime showcase to a 10 AM PT start could take solace that the Seahawks’ clash with the Panthers, who were contending for the playoffs despite losing Cam Newton, looked likely to be flexed in in Week 15. Fast forward to now: the Panthers haven’t won a game since, as a result the Saints clinched the division as early as their Thanksgiving game with the Falcons while the Panthers are now tied with the Buccaneers (with the Bucs holding the tiebreaker!) for second in the division, and Seahawks-Panthers has become so lopsided it would be a legitimate candidate to be flexed out if it were the tentative. Based purely on record Bills-Steelers, Texans-Titans, and Bears-Packers would seem to be the favorites, and Texans-Titans can be dismissed out of hand right from the jump. Bears-Packers has the most name value and is only a half-game worse than Bills-Steelers, but NBC already showed that rivalry to kick off the season, and Fox, which probably didn’t protect it only because they have the Cowboys in their feature game, would scream bloody murder at losing it twice, once to a rare kickoff game not involving the Super Bowl champions and once to a flex. I normally dismiss the name value of the Bills, but the Steelers (despite lacking their own star quarterback) are one of the few teams that can pop a rating no matter who’s on the team, how they’re doing, or who they’re playing, and the Bills’ Thanksgiving clash did gerbonkers ratings even by the lofty standards of Cowboys Thanksgiving games, so they’re hardly chopped liver and have more national showcases coming – a Saturday NFLN clash with the Patriots the following week and a return to the playoffs as the third- or fourth-best team in the AFC. The time is ripe to give them a Sunday night showcase as well.
- Final prediction: Buffalo Bills @ Pittsburgh Steelers.
- Actual selection: Buffalo Bills @ Pittsburgh Steelers (matches prediction). Which was actually announced before halftime of the Sunday night game, meaning, as pointed out to me on Twitter, it came before the Patriots opened up an opportunity for the Bills to actually catch them for the division and a first-round bye. (Which, coupled with the Rams’ continued mediocrity, means the game between them might now be the most attractive of the three Week 16 Saturday NFLN games.)