Category Archives: NFL

Last-Minute Remarks on SNF Week 12 Picks

Week 12 (November 27):

  • Tentative game: New England @ NY Jets
  • Prospects: 7-2 v. 3-7. Very lopsided, but could be hard pressed to lose its spot under the circumstances.
  • Likely protections: Chiefs-Broncos (CBS) and Cardinals-Falcons, Rams-Saints, Seahawks-Bucs, or nothing (FOX).
  • Other possible games mentioned on last week’s Watch and their records: Cardinals (4-4-1)-Falcons (6-4), Bengals (3-4-1)-Ravens (5-4), Seahawks (6-2-1)-Bucs (4-5), Rams (4-5)-Saints (4-5), Panthers (3-6)-Raiders (7-2).
  • Impact of Monday Night Football: The Bengals have a chance to put a second 4-4-1 team in the conversation.
  • Analysis: Other than the Pats’ loss, the exact scenario I laid out that would have made the flex situation particularly interesting happened. Thanksgiving Weekend typically means a paucity of good options because of all the games, including the Cowboys, bumped to Thanksgiving day (and this year the Colts are the only team across the Thanksgiving and Monday Night games below .500), and I’ve heard it suggested that NBC doesn’t want its plans for travel from the Thanksgiving night site to the following Sunday night site to be changed on less than two weeks’ notice, but with their half of the TNF package they’d have to do that pretty much every week of the main flex period anyway, and I would imagine the league might be desperate to do anything to stem off the constant “collapsing ratings” headlines. Neither Cardinals-Falcons nor Bengals-Ravens have any stars on the level of Tom Brady, nor do they bring the same caliber of market, but there is some evidence that people are turning away from lousy primetime games as much as anything else, and the league might be reticent to put a game that looks like such a mismatch and whose main promise might be a repeat of the Butt Fumble on its main primetime package if it has viable alternatives. Of course, as Seahawks-Cardinals proved, even evenly-matched but mediocre teams can have a lousy game, and I still wouldn’t be surprised if Patriots-Jets keeps its spot, but a flex is a very real possibility, and for the moment I’m going to say that under most circumstances in the past, the NFL would definitely pull the trigger here (and indeed I wouldn’t be surprised if Seahawks-Bucs was the pick).
  • Final prediction: Arizona Cardinals @ Atlanta Falcons (if unprotected), Cincinnati Bengals @ Baltimore Ravens (if Cardinals-Falcons is protected and the Bengals win Monday night), New England Patriots @ New York Jets (no change) (if Cardinals-Falcons is protected and the Giants win Monday night).

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 9

NBC’s Sunday Night Football package gives it flexible scheduling. For the last seven weeks of the season, the games are determined on 12-day notice, 6-day notice for Week 17.

The first year, no game was listed in the Sunday Night slot, only a notation that one game could move there. Now, NBC lists the game it “tentatively” schedules for each night. However, the NFL is in charge of moving games to prime time.

Here are the rules from the NFL web site (note that this was originally written with the 2007 season in mind and has been only iteratively and incompletely edited since then, hence why at one point it still says late games start at 4:15 ET instead of 4:25):

  • Begins Sunday of Week 5
  • In effect during Weeks 5-17
  • Up to 2 games may be flexed into Sunday Night between Weeks 5-10
  • Only Sunday afternoon games are subject to being moved into the Sunday night window.
  • The game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night during flex weeks will be listed at 8:15 p.m. ET.
  • The majority of games on Sundays will be listed at 1:00 p.m. ET during flex weeks except for games played in Pacific or Mountain Time zones which will be listed at 4:05 or 4:15 p.m. ET.
  • No impact on Thursday, Saturday or Monday night games.
  • The NFL will decide (after consultation with CBS, FOX, NBC) and announce as early as possible the game being played at 8:15 p.m. ET. The announcement will come no later than 12 days prior to the game. The NFL may also announce games moving to 4:05 p.m. ET and 4:25 p.m. ET.
  • Week 17 start time changes could be decided on 6 days notice to ensure a game with playoff implications.
  • The NBC Sunday night time slot in “flex” weeks will list the game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night.
  • Fans and ticket holders must be aware that NFL games in flex weeks are subject to change 12 days in advance (6 days in Week 17) and should plan accordingly.
  • NFL schedules all games.
  • Teams will be informed as soon as they are no longer under consideration or eligible for a move to Sunday night.
  • Rules NOT listed on NFL web site but pertinent to flex schedule selection: CBS and Fox each protect games in five out of six weeks starting Week 11, and cannot protect any games Week 17. Games were protected after Week 4 in 2006 and 2011, because NBC hosted Christmas night games those years and all the other games were moved to Saturday (and so couldn’t be flexed), but are otherwise protected after Week 5; I’m assuming protections were due in Week 4 again this year, and the above notwithstanding, Week 10 is part of the main flex period this year, as it was in 2006 and 2011. As I understand it, during the Week 5-10 period the NFL and NBC declare their intention to flex out a game two weeks in advance, at which point CBS and Fox pick one game each to protect.
  • Three teams can appear a maximum of six games in primetime on NBC, ESPN or NFL Network (everyone else gets five) and no team may appear more than four times on NBC, although starting this year Week 17 is exempt from team appearance limits. No team starts the season completely tapped out at any measure; nine teams have five primetime appearances each, but only the Texans don’t have games in the main flex period, though they don’t have any early-flex games left either. A list of all teams’ number of appearances is in my Week 5 post.

Here are the current tentatively-scheduled games and my predictions:

Week 10 (November 13):

  • Selected game: Seattle @ New England.

Week 11 (November 20):

  • Selected game: Green Bay @ Washington (presumably).

Week 12 (November 27):

  • Tentative game: New England @ NY Jets
  • Prospects: 7-1 v. 3-6. Very lopsided, but could be hard pressed to lose its spot under the circumstances.
  • Likely protections: Chiefs-Broncos (CBS) and Cardinals-Falcons, Rams-Saints, Seahawks-Bucs, or nothing (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Thanksgiving Weekend, paucity of good games, and this year seems to have gotten unusually lucky in terms of good teams on Thanksgiving and Monday night (across those four games only the Colts are below .500). With Chiefs-Broncos likely protected, no games involve only teams at or above .500, with Cardinals-Falcons and Bengals-Ravens the most viable alternatives, followed by Seahawks-Bucs and Rams-Saints. Panthers-Raiders is probably too lopsided to be relevant.
  • Analysis: The Bengals play on Monday night, so that may be hard to assess, but things could get interesting if the Cardinals win to get to 4-4-1, the Falcons lose to get to 6-4, Patriots-Jets gets even more lopsided, and Cardinals-Falcons wasn’t protected. I’ve heard it suggested that NBC doesn’t want its plans for travel from the Thanksgiving night site to the following Sunday night site to be changed on less than two weeks’ notice, but with their half of the TNF package they’d have to do that pretty much every week of the main flex period anyway, and I would imagine the league might be desperate to do anything to stem off the constant “collapsing ratings” headlines. Neither Cardinals-Falcons nor Bengals-Ravens have any stars on the level of Tom Brady, nor do they bring the same caliber of market, but there is some evidence that people are turning away from lousy primetime games as much as anything else, and the league might be reticent to put a game that looks like such a mismatch and whose main promise might be a repeat of the Butt Fumble on its main primetime package if it has viable alternatives. Of course, as Seahawks-Cardinals proved, even evenly-matched but mediocre teams can have a lousy game, and no matter what odds are Patriots-Jets keeps its spot, but I would consider a flex to be a very real possibility here if any of the below-.500 teams win.

Week 13 (December 4):

  • Tentative game: Carolina @ Seattle
  • Prospects: 3-5 v. 5-2-1. Still not in great shape, but not as lopsided as it used to be and the Panthers aren’t looking as terrible as they used to be.
  • Likely protections: Texans-Packers (CBS) and Rams-Patriots, Giants-Steelers, or Eagles-Bengals (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Chiefs-Falcons is definitely the strongest option, assuming I’m not wrong about CBS’ protection. Lions-Saints, Eagles-Bengals, Dolphins-Ravens, Giants-Steelers, Racial Slurs-Cardinals, and Bills-Raiders are dark horses.

Week 14 (December 11):

  • Tentative game: Dallas @ NY Giants
  • Prospects: 7-1 v. 5-3, and the top two teams in the division, would be tough for any game to overcome the tentative game bias against, but when it’s an intra-NFC East matchup involving the Cowboys, nothing else has a chance.
  • Likely protections: Steelers-Bills if anything (CBS) and Seahawks-Packers (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Native Americans-Eagles was good enough I considered listing them as an option for the protection, and if I’m right about the protections it’s the only game involving nothing but teams at or above .500. Steelers-Bills, Broncos-Titans, Texans-Colts, and Cardinals-Dolphins are all dark horses.

Week 15 (December 18):

  • Tentative game: Pittsburgh @ Cincinnati
  • Prospects: 4-4 v. 3-4-1. Not great, and without the sort of brand value that would insulate it from a flex, but not terrible, and potentially for the AFC North lead.
  • Likely protections: Patriots-Broncos (CBS) and Eagles-Ravens (FOX).
  • Other possible games: The good news for this game is that Lions-Giants is the only game involving only teams above .500, and it’s not really that much better. Titans-Chiefs, Saints-Cardinals, Colts-Vikings, and Raiders-Chargers are all dark horses.

Week 17 (January 3):

AFC Playoff Picture
DIVISION
LEADERS
WILD CARD WAITING IN
THE WINGS
NORTH
44-4
56-2 4-4
4-4 4-4
SOUTH
34-4
66-3 4-5
2 teams at 4-5 4-5
WEST
27-2
4-5
6-2 4-5
EAST
17-1
4-4
NFC Playoff Picture
DIVISION
LEADERS
WILD CARD WAITING IN
THE WINGS
NORTH
45-3
55-3 3-4-1
5-4 3-5
SOUTH
36-3
64-3-1 3-5
4-4 3-5
WEST
25-2-1
5-4
3-4-1 4-4
EAST
17-1
4-4
5-3 4-4
  • Tentative game: None (NBC will show game with guaranteed playoff implications).
  • Possible games: Saints-Falcons, Giants-Politicians, Texans-Titans, Packers-Lions, Cardinals-Rams, Raiders-Broncos, Seahawks-49ers.

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 8

NBC’s Sunday Night Football package gives it flexible scheduling. For the last seven weeks of the season, the games are determined on 12-day notice, 6-day notice for Week 17.

The first year, no game was listed in the Sunday Night slot, only a notation that one game could move there. Now, NBC lists the game it “tentatively” schedules for each night. However, the NFL is in charge of moving games to prime time.

Here are the rules from the NFL web site (note that this was originally written with the 2007 season in mind and has been only iteratively and incompletely edited since then, hence why at one point it still says late games start at 4:15 ET instead of 4:25):

  • Begins Sunday of Week 5
  • In effect during Weeks 5-17
  • Up to 2 games may be flexed into Sunday Night between Weeks 5-10
  • Only Sunday afternoon games are subject to being moved into the Sunday night window.
  • The game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night during flex weeks will be listed at 8:15 p.m. ET.
  • The majority of games on Sundays will be listed at 1:00 p.m. ET during flex weeks except for games played in Pacific or Mountain Time zones which will be listed at 4:05 or 4:15 p.m. ET.
  • No impact on Thursday, Saturday or Monday night games.
  • The NFL will decide (after consultation with CBS, FOX, NBC) and announce as early as possible the game being played at 8:15 p.m. ET. The announcement will come no later than 12 days prior to the game. The NFL may also announce games moving to 4:05 p.m. ET and 4:25 p.m. ET.
  • Week 17 start time changes could be decided on 6 days notice to ensure a game with playoff implications.
  • The NBC Sunday night time slot in “flex” weeks will list the game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night.
  • Fans and ticket holders must be aware that NFL games in flex weeks are subject to change 12 days in advance (6 days in Week 17) and should plan accordingly.
  • NFL schedules all games.
  • Teams will be informed as soon as they are no longer under consideration or eligible for a move to Sunday night.
  • Rules NOT listed on NFL web site but pertinent to flex schedule selection: CBS and Fox each protect games in five out of six weeks starting Week 11, and cannot protect any games Week 17. Games were protected after Week 4 in 2006 and 2011, because NBC hosted Christmas night games those years and all the other games were moved to Saturday (and so couldn’t be flexed), but are otherwise protected after Week 5; I’m assuming protections were due in Week 4 again this year, and the above notwithstanding, Week 10 is part of the main flex period this year, as it was in 2006 and 2011. As I understand it, during the Week 5-10 period the NFL and NBC declare their intention to flex out a game two weeks in advance, at which point CBS and Fox pick one game each to protect.
  • Three teams can appear a maximum of six games in primetime on NBC, ESPN or NFL Network (everyone else gets five) and no team may appear more than four times on NBC, although starting this year Week 17 is exempt from team appearance limits. No team starts the season completely tapped out at any measure; nine teams have five primetime appearances each, but only the Texans don’t have games in the main flex period, though they don’t have any early-flex games left either. A list of all teams’ number of appearances is in my Week 5 post.

Here are the current tentatively-scheduled games and my predictions:

Week 10 (November 13):

  • Selected game: Seattle @ New England (presumably).

Week 11 (November 20):

  • Tentative game: Green Bay @ Washington
  • Prospects: 4-3 v. 4-3-1, beatable but strong enough to fend off most challenges.
  • Likely protections: Ravens-Cowboys or Eagles-Seahawks (CBS) and probably Cardinals-Vikings if anything (FOX).
  • Other possible games: If Eagles-Seahawks is protected, the only available games involve teams at 3-4 or 3-4-1 at best: Bucs-Chiefs, Ravens-Cowboys, and Cardinals-Vikings (which might itself be protected), with Bills-Bengals being 4-4 v. 3-4 and Dolphins-Rams a matchup of 3-4 teams.
  • Analysis: Needless to say, none of those games are overcoming the tentative game bias (and audience-attracting ability of the Packers and Wall-Builders) even if the Packers fall to .500 (Washington’s bye is this week) and the 3-4 team climbs up to .500. That leaves Eagles-Seahawks, which stands at 4-3 v. 4-2-1 and would be the Seahawks’ second consecutive week on SNF. The best-case scenario would be 5-3 v. 5-2-1 with the tentative sitting at 4-4 v. 4-3-1, which gives a clear edge, but again probably not enough to overcome the tentative game bias and name value of the teams, especially since the whole reason Eagles-Seahawks is CBS’ game to protect to begin with is because it’s already slated as the late game of their doubleheader.
  • Final prediction: Green Bay Packers @ Washington Wall-Builders (no change).

Week 12 (November 27):

  • Tentative game: New England @ NY Jets
  • Prospects: 7-1 v. 3-5. Very lopsided, but could be hard pressed to lose its spot under the circumstances.
  • Likely protections: Chiefs-Broncos (CBS) and Cardinals-Falcons, Rams-Saints, Seahawks-Bucs, or nothing (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Thanksgiving Weekend, paucity of good games, and this year seems to have gotten unusually lucky in terms of good teams on Thanksgiving and Monday night (across those four games only the Colts are below .500). With Chiefs-Broncos likely protected, no games involve only teams at or above .500, with Cardinals-Falcons and Seahawks-Bucs the most viable dark horses and Bengals-Ravens and Rams-Saints matchups of teams at 3-4 or 3-4-1.

Week 13 (December 4):

  • Tentative game: Carolina @ Seattle
  • Prospects: 2-5 v. 4-2-1; relative upsets this weekend made it less lopsided, but it’s still not in good shape.
  • Likely protections: Texans-Packers (CBS) and Rams-Patriots, Giants-Steelers, or Eagles-Bengals (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Chiefs-Falcons and (if unprotected) Giants-Steelers are the strongest options, with Bills-Raiders close behind. Rams-Patriots, Eagles-Bengals, and Racial Slurs-Cardinals are the most viable dark horses, followed by Lions-Saints and Bills-Raiders; Dolphins-Ravens is hanging on by a thread.

Week 14 (December 11):

  • Tentative game: Dallas @ NY Giants
  • Prospects: 6-1 v. 4-3 would be tough for any game to overcome the tentative game bias against, but when it’s an intra-NFC East matchup involving the Cowboys, nothing else has a chance.
  • Likely protections: Steelers-Bills if anything (CBS) and Seahawks-Packers (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Native Americans-Eagles is good enough I considered listing them as an option for the protection, and if I’m right about the protections it’s the only game involving nothing but teams above .500. Broncos-Titans is the most viable dark horse (unless Steelers-Bills is unprotected), followed by Falcons-Rams, then Saints-Bucs and Cardinals-Dolphins.

Week 15 (December 18):

  • Tentative game: Pittsburgh @ Cincinnati
  • Prospects: 4-3 v. 3-4-1. Not great, and without the sort of brand value that would insulate it from a flex, but not terrible, and potentially for the AFC North lead.
  • Likely protections: Patriots-Broncos (CBS) and Eagles-Ravens (FOX).
  • Other possible games: The good news for this game is that no game involves only teams above .500, with Titans-Chiefs and Lions-Giants being the biggest threats. Bucs-Cowboys could be an interesting dark horse, with Saints-Cardinals the only other game even to stick to teams at 3-4, 3-4-1, or above (and there are a LOT of teams at that mark).

Week 17 (January 3):

  • Playoff positioning watch begins Week 9.

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 7

NBC’s Sunday Night Football package gives it flexible scheduling. For the last seven weeks of the season, the games are determined on 12-day notice, 6-day notice for Week 17.

The first year, no game was listed in the Sunday Night slot, only a notation that one game could move there. Now, NBC lists the game it “tentatively” schedules for each night. However, the NFL is in charge of moving games to prime time.

Here are the rules from the NFL web site (note that this was originally written with the 2007 season in mind and has been only iteratively and incompletely edited since then, hence why at one point it still says late games start at 4:15 ET instead of 4:25):

  • Begins Sunday of Week 5
  • In effect during Weeks 5-17
  • Up to 2 games may be flexed into Sunday Night between Weeks 5-10
  • Only Sunday afternoon games are subject to being moved into the Sunday night window.
  • The game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night during flex weeks will be listed at 8:15 p.m. ET.
  • The majority of games on Sundays will be listed at 1:00 p.m. ET during flex weeks except for games played in Pacific or Mountain Time zones which will be listed at 4:05 or 4:15 p.m. ET.
  • No impact on Thursday, Saturday or Monday night games.
  • The NFL will decide (after consultation with CBS, FOX, NBC) and announce as early as possible the game being played at 8:15 p.m. ET. The announcement will come no later than 12 days prior to the game. The NFL may also announce games moving to 4:05 p.m. ET and 4:25 p.m. ET.
  • Week 17 start time changes could be decided on 6 days notice to ensure a game with playoff implications.
  • The NBC Sunday night time slot in “flex” weeks will list the game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night.
  • Fans and ticket holders must be aware that NFL games in flex weeks are subject to change 12 days in advance (6 days in Week 17) and should plan accordingly.
  • NFL schedules all games.
  • Teams will be informed as soon as they are no longer under consideration or eligible for a move to Sunday night.
  • Rules NOT listed on NFL web site but pertinent to flex schedule selection: CBS and Fox each protect games in five out of six weeks starting Week 11, and cannot protect any games Week 17. Games were protected after Week 4 in 2006 and 2011, because NBC hosted Christmas night games those years and all the other games were moved to Saturday (and so couldn’t be flexed), but are otherwise protected after Week 5; I’m assuming protections were due in Week 4 again this year, and the above notwithstanding, Week 10 is part of the main flex period this year, as it was in 2006 and 2011. As I understand it, during the Week 5-10 period the NFL and NBC declare their intention to flex out a game two weeks in advance, at which point CBS and Fox pick one game each to protect.
  • Three teams can appear a maximum of six games in primetime on NBC, ESPN or NFL Network (everyone else gets five) and no team may appear more than four times on NBC, although starting this year Week 17 is exempt from team appearance limits. No team starts the season completely tapped out at any measure; nine teams have five primetime appearances each, but only the Texans don’t have games in the main flex period, though they don’t have any early-flex games left either. A list of all teams’ number of appearances is in my Week 5 post.

Here are the current tentatively-scheduled games and my predictions:

Week 10 (November 13):

  • Tentative game: Seattle @ New England
  • Prospects: 4-1-1 v. 6-1. A bit lopsided in the win column, but these two teams are tied for the fewest losses in the league.
  • Likely protections: Broncos-Saints but probably nothing (CBS) and Cowboys-Steelers (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Falcons-Eagles and Vikings-Skraelings would be strong contenders against a weaker tentative (with Packers-Titans a dark horse)…
  • Analysis: …but both involve three-loss teams. A Seahawks loss and a Falcons win or a win by the other Washington would result in a comparison between 4-2-1 v. 5-3, which may not obviously go one way or the other, but 6-2 would still have the edge over 5-2, and 6-1 v. 5-3 would still be a skosh lopsided, before even getting to the tentative game bias.
  • Final prediction: Seattle Seahawks @ New England Patriots (no change).

Week 11 (November 20):

  • Tentative game: Green Bay @ Washington
  • Prospects: 4-2 v. 4-3, beatable but strong enough to fend off most challenges.
  • Likely protections: Ravens-Cowboys or Eagles-Seahawks (CBS) and probably Cardinals-Vikings if anything (FOX).
  • Other possible games: If Eagles-Seahawks is protected, Bucs-Chiefs and Cardinals-Vikings are the only games involving teams at or above .500, and the latter might be protected as well. Ravens-Cowboys is a dark horse if unprotected, as is Bills-Bengals; Titans-Colts and Dolphins-Rams are games between 3-4 teams.

Week 12 (November 27):

  • Tentative game: New England @ NY Jets
  • Prospects: 6-1 v. 2-5. Very lopsided, but could be hard pressed to lose its spot under the circumstances.
  • Likely protections: Chiefs-Broncos (CBS) and Cardinals-Falcons, Rams-Saints, Seahawks-Bucs, or nothing (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Thanksgiving Weekend, paucity of good games, and this year seems to have gotten unusually lucky in terms of good teams on Thanksgiving and Monday night (across those four games only the Colts are below .500). With Chiefs-Broncos likely protected, no games involve teams above .500, with Cardinals-Falcons and Seahawks-Bucs involving teams at that mark and Chargers-Texans as a viable dark horse.

Week 13 (December 4):

  • Tentative game: Carolina @ Seattle
  • Prospects: 1-5 v. 4-1-1, with the Panthers’ struggles making this unfortunately lopsided.
  • Likely protections: Texans-Packers (CBS) and Rams-Patriots, Giants-Steelers, or Eagles-Bengals (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Chiefs-Falcons and Bills-Raiders are reasonably strong contenders, as is Giants-Steelers if it’s unprotected, with Racial Slurs-Cardinals waiting in the wings. Rams-Patriots and Eagles-Bengals are dark horses, followed by Bucs-Chargers.

Week 14 (December 11):

  • Tentative game: Dallas @ NY Giants
  • Prospects: 5-1 v. 4-3 would be tough for any game to overcome the tentative game bias against, but when it’s an intra-NFC East matchup involving the Cowboys, nothing else has a chance.
  • Likely protections: Steelers-Bills if anything (CBS) and Seahawks-Packers (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Native Americans-Eagles is good enough I considered listing them as an option for the protection, and if I’m right about the protections it’s the only game involving nothing but teams above .500. Broncos-Titans, Falcons-Rams, and Texans-Colts are dark horses with Cardinals-Dolphins further back.

Week 15 (December 18):

  • Tentative game: Pittsburgh @ Cincinnati
  • Prospects: 4-3 v. 3-4. Not great, and without the sort of brand value that would insulate it from a flex, but not terrible, and potentially for the AFC North lead.
  • Likely protections: Patriots-Broncos (CBS) and Eagles-Ravens (FOX).
  • Other possible games: The good news for this game is that Lions-Giants is the only game involving two teams above .500, and 4-3 v. 4-3 probably isn’t overcoming the tentative game bias and greater potential playoff implications (though a lot depends on Ben Roethlisberger’s health and how the Steelers play without him). Bucs-Cowboys might actually be more interesting if it weren’t lopsided. Titans-Chiefs, Colts-Vikings, and Raiders-Chargers are potential dark horses.

Week 17 (January 3):

  • Playoff positioning watch begins Week 9.

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 6

NBC’s Sunday Night Football package gives it flexible scheduling. For the last seven weeks of the season, the games are determined on 12-day notice, 6-day notice for Week 17.

The first year, no game was listed in the Sunday Night slot, only a notation that one game could move there. Now, NBC lists the game it “tentatively” schedules for each night. However, the NFL is in charge of moving games to prime time.

Here are the rules from the NFL web site (note that this was originally written with the 2007 season in mind and has been only iteratively and incompletely edited since then, hence why at one point it still says late games start at 4:15 ET instead of 4:25):

  • Begins Sunday of Week 5
  • In effect during Weeks 5-17
  • Up to 2 games may be flexed into Sunday Night between Weeks 5-10
  • Only Sunday afternoon games are subject to being moved into the Sunday night window.
  • The game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night during flex weeks will be listed at 8:15 p.m. ET.
  • The majority of games on Sundays will be listed at 1:00 p.m. ET during flex weeks except for games played in Pacific or Mountain Time zones which will be listed at 4:05 or 4:15 p.m. ET.
  • No impact on Thursday, Saturday or Monday night games.
  • The NFL will decide (after consultation with CBS, FOX, NBC) and announce as early as possible the game being played at 8:15 p.m. ET. The announcement will come no later than 12 days prior to the game. The NFL may also announce games moving to 4:05 p.m. ET and 4:25 p.m. ET.
  • Week 17 start time changes could be decided on 6 days notice to ensure a game with playoff implications.
  • The NBC Sunday night time slot in “flex” weeks will list the game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night.
  • Fans and ticket holders must be aware that NFL games in flex weeks are subject to change 12 days in advance (6 days in Week 17) and should plan accordingly.
  • NFL schedules all games.
  • Teams will be informed as soon as they are no longer under consideration or eligible for a move to Sunday night.
  • Rules NOT listed on NFL web site but pertinent to flex schedule selection: CBS and Fox each protect games in five out of six weeks starting Week 11, and cannot protect any games Week 17. Games were protected after Week 4 in 2006 and 2011, because NBC hosted Christmas night games those years and all the other games were moved to Saturday (and so couldn’t be flexed), but are otherwise protected after Week 5; I’m assuming protections were due in Week 4 again this year, and the above notwithstanding, Week 10 is part of the main flex period this year, as it was in 2006 and 2011. As I understand it, during the Week 5-10 period the NFL and NBC declare their intention to flex out a game two weeks in advance, at which point CBS and Fox pick one game each to protect.
  • Three teams can appear a maximum of six games in primetime on NBC, ESPN or NFL Network (everyone else gets five) and no team may appear more than four times on NBC, although starting this year Week 17 is exempt from team appearance limits. No team starts the season completely tapped out at any measure; nine teams have five primetime appearances each, but only the Texans don’t have games in the main flex period, though they don’t have any early-flex games left either. A list of all teams’ number of appearances is in my Week 5 post.

Here are the current tentatively-scheduled games and my predictions:

Week 10 (November 13):

  • Tentative game: Seattle @ New England
  • Prospects: 4-1 v. 5-1, which is nearly impossible to beat.
  • Likely protections: Broncos-Saints but probably nothing (CBS) and Cowboys-Steelers (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Falcons-Eagles would be a strong contender against a weaker tentative (and might have been protected if the Cowboys were facing a weaker opponent), as would Vikings-Skraelings. Packers-Titans is too mediocre to be relevant, and Texans-Jaguars and Broncos-Saints are 4-2 v. 2-3 matchups that would need a lot to go their way under the best of circumstances.

Week 11 (November 20):

  • Tentative game: Green Bay @ Washington
  • Prospects: 3-2 v. 4-2, not quite as hard to beat as Seahawks-Patriots, but pretty strong.
  • Likely protections: Ravens-Cowboys or Eagles-Seahawks (CBS) and probably Cardinals-Vikings if anything (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Besides CBS’ unprotected game (and Cardinals-Vikings if it’s unprotected), the only other options involve teams below .500, with Bucs-Chiefs and Jaguars-Lions being the most viable.

Week 12 (November 27):

  • Tentative game: New England @ NY Jets
  • Prospects: 5-1 v. 1-5. Very lopsided, but could be hard pressed to lose its spot under the circumstances.
  • Likely protections: Chiefs-Broncos (CBS) and Cardinals-Falcons, Rams-Saints, Seahawks-Bucs, or nothing (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Thanksgiving Weekend, paucity of good games, and this year seems to have gotten unusually lucky in terms of good teams on Thanksgiving and Monday night (across those four games only the Colts are below .500), although Cardinals-Falcons is looking like a potentially viable alternative. Basically, whichever games Fox didn’t protect are joined by Jaguars-Bills as at least dark horses.

Week 13 (December 4):

  • Tentative game: Carolina @ Seattle
  • Prospects: 1-5 v. 4-1, with the Panthers’ struggles making this unfortunately lopsided.
  • Likely protections: Texans-Packers (CBS) and Rams-Patriots, Giants-Steelers, or Eagles-Bengals (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Chiefs-Falcons and Bills-Raiders are reasonably strong contenders, along with whichever game(s) are unprotected between Rams-Patriots and Giants-Steelers (I think the former is most likely), as well as Racial Slurs-Cardinals. Lions-Saints and Broncos-Jaguars are emerging as dark horses.

Week 14 (December 11):

  • Tentative game: Dallas @ NY Giants
  • Prospects: 5-1 v. 3-3 would be tough for any game to overcome the tentative game bias against, but when it’s an intra-NFC East matchup involving the Cowboys, nothing else has a chance.
  • Likely protections: Steelers-Bills if anything (CBS) and Seahawks-Packers (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Native Americans-Eagles is good enough I considered listing them as an option for the protection, while Falcons-Rams and Broncos-Titans would also be very viable options against a more vulnerable tentative. Vikings-Jaguars is a dark horse, and Saints-Bucs is even darker.

Week 15 (December 18):

  • Tentative game: Pittsburgh @ Cincinnati
  • Prospects: 4-2 v. 2-4. Not great, and without the sort of brand value that would insulate it from a flex, but not terrible.
  • Likely protections: Patriots-Broncos (CBS) and Eagles-Ravens (FOX).
  • Other possible games: The good news for this game is that Titans-Chiefs and Lions-Giants are the only games that don’t involve teams under .500, and Lions-Giants, which has the better name value, pits two .500 teams. That’s not overcoming the tentative game bias. Bucs-Cowboys, Jaguars-Texans, or Saints-Cardinals could be dark horses if the road teams could climb above .500.

Week 17 (January 3):

  • Playoff positioning watch begins Week 9.

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 5

NBC’s Sunday Night Football package gives it flexible scheduling. For the last seven weeks of the season, the games are determined on 12-day notice, 6-day notice for Week 17.

The first year, no game was listed in the Sunday Night slot, only a notation that one game could move there. Now, NBC lists the game it “tentatively” schedules for each night. However, the NFL is in charge of moving games to prime time.

Here are the rules from the NFL web site (note that this was originally written with the 2007 season in mind and has been only iteratively and incompletely edited since then, hence why at one point it still says late games start at 4:15 ET instead of 4:25):

  • Begins Sunday of Week 5
  • In effect during Weeks 5-17
  • Up to 2 games may be flexed into Sunday Night between Weeks 5-10
  • Only Sunday afternoon games are subject to being moved into the Sunday night window.
  • The game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night during flex weeks will be listed at 8:15 p.m. ET.
  • The majority of games on Sundays will be listed at 1:00 p.m. ET during flex weeks except for games played in Pacific or Mountain Time zones which will be listed at 4:05 or 4:15 p.m. ET.
  • No impact on Thursday, Saturday or Monday night games.
  • The NFL will decide (after consultation with CBS, FOX, NBC) and announce as early as possible the game being played at 8:15 p.m. ET. The announcement will come no later than 12 days prior to the game. The NFL may also announce games moving to 4:05 p.m. ET and 4:25 p.m. ET.
  • Week 17 start time changes could be decided on 6 days notice to ensure a game with playoff implications.
  • The NBC Sunday night time slot in “flex” weeks will list the game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night.
  • Fans and ticket holders must be aware that NFL games in flex weeks are subject to change 12 days in advance (6 days in Week 17) and should plan accordingly.
  • NFL schedules all games.
  • Teams will be informed as soon as they are no longer under consideration or eligible for a move to Sunday night.
  • Rules NOT listed on NFL web site but pertinent to flex schedule selection: CBS and Fox each protect games in five out of six weeks starting Week 11, and cannot protect any games Week 17. Games were protected after Week 4 in 2006 and 2011, because NBC hosted Christmas night games those years and all the other games were moved to Saturday (and so couldn’t be flexed), but are otherwise protected after Week 5; I’m assuming protections were due in Week 4 again this year, and the above notwithstanding, Week 10 is part of the main flex period this year, as it was in 2006 and 2011 (and yes I goofed up by not writing this post last week). As I understand it, during the Week 5-10 period the NFL and NBC declare their intention to flex out a game two weeks in advance, at which point CBS and Fox pick one game each to protect.
  • Three teams can appear a maximum of six games in primetime on NBC, ESPN or NFL Network (everyone else gets five) and no team may appear more than four times on NBC, although starting this year Week 17 is exempt from team appearance limits. No team starts the season completely tapped out at any measure; nine teams have five primetime appearances each, but only the Texans don’t have games in the main flex period, though they don’t have any early-flex games left either. NBC appearances for all teams: CAR 2 (1 flexible), DEN 3 (1 semi-flexible, 1 flexible), NE 3 (1 semi-flexible, 1 flexible), ARI 2 (1 semi-flexible), GB 3 (1 flexible), MIN 1, CHI 1, DAL 3 (1 semi-flexible, 1 flexible), KC 2 (1 flexible), PIT 3 (2 flexible), NYG 2 (1 flexible), IND 2 (flexible), HOU 1, SEA 3 (2 semi-flexible, 1 flexible), PHI 1 (semi-flexible), OAK 1 (semi-flexible), WAS 1 (flexible), NYJ 1 (flexible), CIN 1 (flexible). All primetime appearances for all teams: CAR 5 (1 flexible), DEN 5 (1 semi-flexible, 1 flexible), NE 5 (2 flexible), ARI 4 (1 semi-flexible), GB 5 (1 flexible), MIN 4, CHI 4, DAL 5 (1 semi-flexible, 1 flexible), KC 3 (1 flexible), PIT 5 (2 flexible), NYG 5 (1 flexible), IND 3 (2 flexible), HOU 5, SEA 5 (1 semi-flexible, 2 flexible), PHI 4 (1 semi-flexible), OAK 3 (1 semi-flexible), WAS 3 (1 flexible), NYJ 5 (1 flexible), CIN 4 (1 flexible), LA 2, SF 2, ATL 2, NO 2, TB 2, BUF 2, BAL 3, MIA 2, all other teams 1.

Briefly, here are the current early-season games and their prospects for being flexed out:

  • Week 7: Seattle (3-1) @ Arizona (2-3). A fairly mediocre contest, but nowhere near the sort of emergency that would warrant pulling the early flex considering the protection rules. No chance of being flexed out.
  • Week 8: Philadelphia (3-1) @ Dallas (4-1). The Cowboys never, ever, get flexed out in any case; when it’s a matchup with the NFC East lead potentially on the line? No chance of being flexed out.
  • Week 9: Denver (4-1) @ Oakland (4-1). Two one-loss teams fighting for the AFC West lead adds up to a game that won’t see any available game overcome the tentative game bias. No chance of being flexed out.

Here are the current tentatively-scheduled games and my predictions:

Week 10 (November 13):

  • Tentative game: Seattle @ New England
  • Prospects: 3-1 v. 4-1, which is nearly impossible to beat.
  • Likely protections: Broncos-Saints but probably nothing (CBS) and Cowboys-Steelers (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Falcons-Eagles would be a strong contender against a weaker tentative (and might have been protected if the Cowboys were facing a weaker opponent), and Vikings-Skraelings finds itself lost in the shuffle. Packers-Titans is a dark horse.

Week 11 (November 20):

  • Tentative game: Green Bay @ Washington
  • Prospects: 3-1 v. 3-2, not quite as hard to beat as Seahawks-Patriots, but pretty strong.
  • Likely protections: Ravens-Cowboys or Eagles-Seahawks (CBS) and probably Cardinals-Vikings if anything (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Besides CBS’ unprotected game, the only other options involve teams below .500, with Bills-Bengals and Buccaneers-Chiefs being the most viable, and Titans-Colts as a very dark horse.

Week 12 (November 27):

  • Tentative game: New England @ NY Jets
  • Prospects: 4-1 v. 1-4. Very lopsided, but could be hard pressed to lose its spot under the circumstances.
  • Likely protections: Chiefs-Broncos (CBS) and Cardinals-Falcons, Rams-Saints, Seahawks-Bucs, or nothing (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Thanksgiving Weekend, paucity of good games, and this year seems to have gotten unusually lucky in terms of good teams on Thanksgiving and Monday night (across those four games only the Colts and Lions have three or more losses). Bengals-Ravens, Cardinals-Falcons, and Seahawks-Bucs are the best options.

Week 13 (December 4):

  • Tentative game: Carolina @ Seattle
  • Prospects: 1-4 v. 3-1, with the Panthers’ struggles making this unfortunately lopsided.
  • Likely protections: Texans-Packers (CBS) and Rams-Patriots, Giants-Steelers, or Eagles-Bengals (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Chiefs-Falcons and Bills-Raiders are reasonably strong contenders, along with whichever game(s) are unprotected between Rams-Patriots and Giants-Steelers (I think the former is most likely). Racial Slurs-Cardinals is a dark horse.

Week 14 (December 11):

  • Tentative game: Dallas @ NY Giants
  • Prospects: 4-1 v. 2-3 is not great, but the Cowboys never get flexed out of SNF under any circumstances and certainly not when they’re playing this well.
  • Likely protections: Steelers-Bills if anything (CBS) and Seahawks-Packers (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Native Americans-Eagles is good enough I considered listing them as an option for the protection, and Falcons-Rams is a good option as well. Broncos-Titans and Texans-Colts are dark horses.

Week 15 (December 18):

  • Tentative game: Pittsburgh @ Cincinnati
  • Prospects: 4-1 v. 2-3, like Cowboys-Giants not great, and the name value of the teams doesn’t insulate this game nearly as well.
  • Likely protections: Patriots-Broncos (CBS) and Eagles-Ravens (FOX).
  • Other possible games: The good news for this game is that the only remaining options also involve 2-3 teams: Titans-Chiefs, Colts-Vikings, or Bucs-Cowboys, with Lions-Giants as a dark horse.

Week 17 (January 3):

  • Playoff positioning watch begins Week 9.

Do I HAVE to update the lineal titles every September?

I said last year that I was thinking of no longer tracking the lineal titles and I meant it, even though I could desperately use the extra content. This time I’m actually most of the way through the opening Saturday of college football season before I even bother to update everything. I’ve updated the NFL lineal title history but not the actual category pages, and you’ll notice that the non-DeflateGate title I said I was going to track isn’t reflected in the history at all, because the Patriots started the season undefeated for a long time while the DeflateGate title changed hands a bunch, and the main title went into the playoffs and starts the season with the Broncos while the non-DeflateGate title starts it with the Saints of all teams. (At some point I may make the format of the site more consistent across the subsites, and I may get rid of the special category pages for the lineal titles entirely at that point, so here’s a link to the NFL lineal title history should that happen.)

On the college side, the anticipated unification of 2009 Boise State with the Princeton-Yale title did in fact happen as TCU and Oklahoma State went into their game against one another undefeated, but even though the Cowboys won that game it’s TCU that enters the new season with the title, and it’s the 2006 Boise State title that returned to the College Football Playoff and starts the year in the hands of Alabama.

Breaking down the new Thursday Night Football deal

Earlier this month the NFL announced a two-year deal with CBS and NBC to split the Thursday Night Football package, pocketing a cool $900 million in the process. CBS will have some games in the early part of the season, with NBC having the later part and NFL Network having some exclusives sprinkled between both parts. The NFL also still wants to sell the TNF package to an over-the-top outlet.

That’s a huge chunk of change, and it’s easy to look at that price and go “what sports rights bubble?” Certainly it looks like CBS and NBC don’t agree with Rich Greenfield that the massive amounts ESPN has paid for sports rights are rooted in assumptions that no longer hold and will end up undermining it, at least within the next two years. As I explain in the book, cord-cutting should actually make sports rights even more valuable, and in fact the forces driving it have arguably been underlying the sports rights boom all along, as one of the few pieces of content guaranteed to keep people watching linear television and keep them signed up for cable. If you look at this deal, you’re thinking it’s a good sign for the Big Ten’s ability to collect a hefty chunk of change from ESPN and Fox (not coincidentally two of the three outfits that didn’t get in on this deal).

That said, I do have to wonder if this is actually that great a deal for CBS and NBC. Analysts at Barclays looked at ad sales vs. rights fees and concluded that CBS lost money on Thursday Night Football last year, though they expect CBS to come out slightly ahead this year with the lower game load; throwing in production costs, Morgan Stanley thinks CBS lost $200 million on the deal and both networks could lose over $100 million a year under the new deal. Of course, ad sales aren’t the only benefit CBS gets from TNF; more NFL games increases the retransmission-consent value of CBS stations, high-rated NFL games increase the lead-in for local news, and CBS gets to use TNF as a platform to promote its other shows. On top of that, under normal circumstances networks do, in fact, make money off ads alone from NFL games. But CBS had to share its Thursday night package with NFL Network, meaning it likely had to share ad revenue with NFLN as well, and might have to share it with whatever OTT partner the NFL gets on board. That also means that, in theory, any retrans benefit from TNF games would be limited if cable operators could still pick them up off NFL Network, though I wouldn’t be surprised if the NFL would require cable operators to pick up CBS to get TNF games on NFL Network.

But selling games to an OTT partner could cripple the amount of money all three networks can get off TNF games from cable operators, even the NFLN-“exclusive” games their deals with cable operators require them to keep. The best-case scenario is that games are sold to Verizon or AT&T under similar terms as Verizon’s existing smartphone deal, where you have to sign up to their existing services to watch the games, meaning subscribers to rival carriers would have to watch on one of the linear networks. The next-best case is if the games are sold to a subscription service, meaning if you aren’t signed up for that service already there’s value in finding a service that carries one of the linear networks or getting an antenna, but by all accounts that’s unlikely. Where there could be a real problem is if the games are sold to an outfit like Yahoo under similar terms as their London game last year, where the stream is free to everyone. Besides making it more likely that Yahoo would want a cut of ad revenue, that means TNF games provide little to no incentive for cable operators to pay more for CBS, NBC, or NFL Network than they otherwise would, with the main incentive to want any of the networks being to avoid seeing Tweets that are as much as a minute ahead of the online stream. It also means some of the suggestions I’ve seen, where the cockamamie scheme where some games air on CBS, some NBC, and some NFL Network leads people to just watch all the games on NFLN, might instead lead people to watch it on the OTT outlet, limiting the amount that any of the networks benefit from the games.

If I’m CBS I’m not sure I agree to this deal without at least securing rights to the games for CBS All Access (and with NBC getting the second half of the season I’d want to find out how much to pay them to get the rights to the season-opening kickoff game, reducing the perception that the balance of Thursday games is tilted towards NBC with that and the Thanksgiving game); if I’m NBC I think long and hard about becoming a party to a scheme that could accelerate the growth of streaming video, potentially at the expense of my parent Comcast’s cable business. I certainly don’t think five games apiece, plus producing four more for NFL Network, with all the games airing on NFLN and an OTT outlet, is worth anything near what CBS and NBC are paying for them.

The NFL is talking about still having an opportunity to “grow the profile” of the Thursday night package, but if the NFL has to come up with this confusing scheme to split the games between two different broadcast networks and sell them to an over-the-top outlet, I think they’re bumping up against the limit of how much value the Thursday night games actually have, and I think this probably puts the nail in the coffin for the notion that the NFL will eventually sell part of the Thursday night package to a cable network like FS1 or NBCSN. The NFL is running up against the inherent limits of the Thursday night timeslot, the questionable quality of the games played on short rest and the need to give every team exactly one game played on short rest, meaning you inevitably have to put the Titans and Jaguars on at some point and you’re limited in how much you can showcase the marquee teams. NBC is salivating over the late-season games they get to show, but the lack of flexible scheduling means they could easily get shafted with dog games involving dog teams; at least early in the season you can put on name teams and people will watch before they know just how good or bad they actually are. (Of course, expect NBC to get the Cowboys the week after Thanksgiving every year, which is guaranteed to pop a rating no matter how much they or their opponents suck.)

Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if Thursday Night Football doesn’t last beyond the end of the current long-term deals in 2022. If selling it to a cable sports network is a dead letter – and Fox, NBC, and ESPN are all likely going to be badly hurting from their hefty investments in their cable sports networks by then – and there isn’t the oversupply of linear TV space there is now, then given the constraints on the product TNF really only makes sense as long as the NFL still has its own cable network, and while you’d think if any outfit could justify its own network, even in a future age of linear television contraction and a la carte, it would be the NFL, the limited live game inventory it would have would make it a tough proposition (something that’s not necessarily the case with college conferences like the Big Ten or SEC), especially given the pros and cons of continuing to sell some of it to another outlet. Depending on how viable an option ESPN is looking, I could see the NFL trying to monetize Monday Night Football in much the way they’ve been doing with Thursday nights, where they can offer more consistent, better matchups and better quality of play than what they can offer the networks and over-the-top outlets that have been bidding on TNF. It’s doubtful they can get the kind of money ESPN pays them for MNF, but then it’s doubtful ESPN itself will be able to pay that much by then.

The realities of trying to turn Thursday Night Football into an institution on par with MNF and SNF are coming home to roost, and while CBS, NBC, and an over-the-top outlet to be named later may be allowing the NFL to keep deluding itself otherwise for now, it may be about to bite all of them in the ass.

2016 Pro Football Hall of Fame Watch – The Top 50 Active Resumes

Surefire first-ballot players:

  1. QB Peyton Manning
  2. QB Tom Brady

These two stand far and away on top of the pack, and their lead has become a yawning chasm. If this is the end of the line for Manning, it will leave Brady standing alone in this category, and it may take at least a few years for anyone else to join him…

Borderline first-ballot players:

  1. RB Adrian Peterson
  2. QB Drew Brees
  3. QB Aaron Rodgers
  4. DT Kevin Williams

…by which I mean, maybe one or two more years of Adrian Peterson performing as he has. His career is all the more remarkable for how short most running back careers have been recently. In general, this year marks the point at which the current generation of players officially grabbed the brass ring and started positioning themselves for potential first-ballot induction. As such, the list is going to get a bit awkward the next few years until the All-Decade Team of the 2010s is named, which’ll be before any of the names on this year’s list are up for consideration; there’s considerable evidence the Hall of Fame voters weight All-Decade teams fairly heavily when deciding who to induct, with All-Decade players ending up inducted more often than not. As such, there’s increasingly going to be a divide between players who’ve played long enough to make the 2000s All-Decade Team and those who haven’t and are waiting for the 2010s Team to be named. I’m assuming Peterson and Rodgers are making that team, but the divide really makes itself felt in the next category; starting next year I may attempt to start predicting who makes the All-Decade Team and re-sort the list accordingly.

Surefire Hall of Famers:

  1. TE Antonio Gates
  2. CB Charles Woodson
  3. WR Calvin Johnson
  4. DE Julius Peppers
  5. CB Darrelle Revis
  6. TE Jason Witten
  7. LB DeMarcus Ware
  8. DE Dwight Freeney
  9. WR Andre Johnson

I’ve seen talk that Charles Woodson not only might go in first ballot, but might be in the running for best cornerback ever. Yeah, no. Even with Champ Bailey retiring a couple years ago, it’s only this year he even became the best active defensive back by resume, as his resume remains comparable to Troy Polamalu (Woodson has one more Pro Bowl selection with his swan song this year, but the AP at least named Polamalu a first-team All-Pro an additional time). Polamalu should get in the Hall of Fame in his first few years on the ballot and the same is true for Woodson, but best-ever they are not. As for Calvin Johnson and his own retirement talk, he should get into the Hall without too much delay (realistically I think his resume is on par with Gates), but the shortness of his career is likely to cost him a first-ballot spot.

Borderline Hall of Famers:

  1. WR Larry Fitzgerald
  2. WR Steve Smith
  3. WR Wes Welker
  4. DE Jared Allen
  5. RB Jamaal Charles
  6. RB LeSean McCoy
  7. RB Arian Foster
  8. OT Joe Thomas
  9. DE J.J. Watt
  10. TE Rob Gronkowski
  11. S Earl Thomas
  12. QB Ben Roethlisberger
  13. CB Patrick Peterson
  14. RB Marshawn Lynch
  15. DE Haloti Ngata
  16. WR Antonio Brown
  17. QB Eli Manning
  18. WR Brandon Marshall
  19. QB Michael Vick
  20. P Shane Lechler
  21. OT Jahri Evans
  22. DT Ndamukong Suh
  23. QB Philip Rivers
  24. KR Devin Hester
  25. K Adam Vinatieri

Because this list assesses players’ resumes if they retired today, it’s only this year that J.J. Watt, who may well prove to be one of the greatest defensive players ever, and Rob Gronkowski amass resumes good enough to even have a chance at the Hall. See the Class of 2020 list to see what can easily happen to players with Hall of Fame-caliber talent that cut their careers too short. Vinatieri remains an interesting situation: very few non-quarterbacks have been propelled into the Hall of Fame on the strength of their Super Bowls… but Vinatieri could be one of them, despite being a kicker, a position with only one other representative in the Hall at all.

Need work:

  • RB Chris Johnson
  • LB Navorro Bowman
  • T Jason Peters
  • S Eric Weddle
  • S Eric Berry
  • DT Gerald McCoy

A couple other players have similar resumes to McCoy and Doug Martin, but those two actually improved their resumes this year, so I can avoid having anyone “back” onto the list just because of players retiring. Probably I should have just thrown on one or two special-teams players, maybe a fullback like Mike Tolbert.

Young stars (exclamation marks indicate players with resumes already strong enough to be among the top 50):

  • LB Von Miller (5th year)
  • WR A.J. Green (5th year)
  • CB Richard Sherman (5th year)!
  • RB DeMarco Murray (5th year)
  • LB Justin Houston (5th year)
  • QB Cam Newton (5th year)!
  • WR Julio Jones (5th year)!
  • QB Russell Wilson (4th year)
  • WR Josh Gordon (4th year)
  • LB Luke Kuechly (4th year)
  • RB Doug Martin (4th year)!
  • LB Bobby Wagner (4th year)
  • RB Le’Veon Bell (3rd year)
  • C Travis Frederick (3rd year)
  • WR Odell Beckham Jr. (2nd year)
  • G Zack Martin (2nd year)
  • DT Aaron Donald (2nd year)
  • DE Khalil Mack (2nd year)
  • RB Todd Gurley (Rookie)
  • CB Marcus Peters (Rookie)

Exactly two rookies made the Pro Bowl in their own right this year, and they also just so happened to be Offensive and Defensive Rookies of the Year.

Players to watch for the Class of 2020:

  • S Troy Polamalu
  • WR Reggie Wayne
  • LB Patrick Willis
  • DE John Abraham
  • RB Maurice Jones-Drew

After last year’s potentially three-first-ballot class, this year should provide some breathing room for players that have been waiting to get in. I’m not sure Polamalu has a good enough resume (or a long enough career) to get in first ballot, but he should get in within a couple of years, so any reprieve is short-lived. No one else is assured of getting in, although Willis’ own short career will make a very interesting case study, as he was shaping up to be a surefire Hall of Famer before his abrupt retirement but now looks decidedly on the bubble. Perhaps more than anyone else, he epitomizes why Rob Gronkowski and J.J. Watt only this year became even borderline Hall of Famers. (I’m not actually sure Wayne will be eligible this year, as he remained on the Patriots’ roster into September before being cut. It’s always fun to see where the Hall of Fame considers a player’s career to have “actually” ended in these borderline situations where a player never played, and wasn’t on a roster during the actual season, but was on the roster for just long enough for you to make an argument either way.)

A Last-Ditch Case for Moving the Raiders, Not the Rams or Chargers, to Los Angeles

It’s looking increasingly like Los Angeles’ long national NFL-less nightmare is coming to an end. A week ago, the Chargers, Raiders, and Rams all filed paperwork to move their respective teams to the Los Angeles area. The Los Angeles Times reports momentum is building behind a proposal to have the Chargers and Rams share a stadium in Inglewood backed by Rams owner E. Stan Kroenke. Chargers owner Dean Spanos is sticking by his own proposal for a stadium in Carson shared with the Raiders, but there seems to be a lot more momentum behind the Inglewood project among the league’s other owners.

Which is good! The notion that half the AFC West would be playing in the same stadium always seemed kind of harebrained to me; that works in the NBA where the only division and conference divisions are geographical, but it smacks of absurdity in the NFL, where New York, the Baltimore-Washington corridor, and most two-team states are evenly balanced between AFC and NFC. It would also cause a television nightmare forcing a large number of crossflexes and/or primetime games to allow LA to see both teams (though they are the only two Pacific-time teams in the division, so Denver and Kansas City could play early when hosting one of them). I’m not convinced LA can actually support two teams, but if it is the second team was pretty much always going to be the Rams.

I also understand why the Chargers and not the Raiders are the AFC team with momentum behind a move to LA. All three markets have turned against the publicly-funded stadium charade and have done little to nothing to help any of the teams secure a new stadium in their home market, and don’t seem to have much support even among fans; in all likelihood, at least one of the teams was going to have to go back to a still-unsettled stadium situation. The Chargers have long seemed further apart with San Diego on a new stadium than the Raiders have with Oakland, and the Raiders have long been the black sheep of the league thanks to their rowdy fans; even LA politicians don’t seem to want the Raiders to return to LA.

But it’s at least conceivable that the NFL might still have a future in San Diego or certainly St. Louis. I’m not sure the NFL has a future in Oakland. The Times suggests that any deal that kept the Raiders in Oakland would include streamlining the process for them to move somewhere else, namely San Diego, St. Louis, or the 49ers stadium in Santa Clara. If it were the Chargers forced to stay put, St. Louis would be their only option. Only the Raiders can make the Bay Area a two-team market; for any other team, it’s not worth it. If a team is going to leave a market for another market, only for a team from a third market, already under consideration for moving to the second market, to fill the void in the first market, what was the point? Why not move the third market’s team to the second market to begin with?

Moreover, the Raiders’ problems seem deeper than those of the Chargers or Rams. The Raiders probably need a change of stadium more than any other team; they’re the last team to share their stadium with a baseball team, and that stadium is a literal sewage dump. Qualcomm Stadium and the Edward Jones Dome have their own problems, but by comparison with the Raiders, they smack of just another couple of owners upset that their stadiums don’t allow them to wine and dine the 1% enough. Even beyond the stadium situation, the Raiders seem to be slowly divorcing themselves from the Bay Area. A few years ago, a brawl between fans at a preseason game between the Raiders and 49ers resulted in the termination of the Raiders-49ers preseason series. Without a geographic rivalry preseason game, there’s barely any point to sharing a market.

While Angelenos themselves seem to want the Rams to return more than any other team, the Raiders certainly place second in terms of teams with roots in the area; the Chargers may have been based in LA their first few years in the AFL, but today’s Angelenos have no connection to them despite the best efforts of the Spanos family, while Ice Cube made an entire documentary a few years ago about the degree to which the Raiders became part of the identity of the city during their relatively brief time there. More than the importance of the Raiders to LA’s identity, though, is the importance of LA to the Raiders’ identity. As much as the suit-and-tie executives running the other teams or calling the shots in LA politics may not like the Raiders’ image, it’s one of the few remaining marks of authenticity in an increasingly corporatized league, and the Raiders would not be the Raiders outside Oakland or Los Angeles. The Raiders’ identity is wrapped up in their working-class roots and West Coast, California attitude; moving them to San Diego or St. Louis just because those cities are free would betray that (San Diego is enough of a vacation spot to undermine its other virtues), and moving them to Levi’s Stadium with its wall of luxury boxes also would mark the corporatization of the team, even if it happened against the Davis family’s wishes. (Besides the fact it would likely mean teams called “San Francisco” and “Oakland” would be playing in a stadium located in neither city, an outcome nearly as absurd as two AFC West teams in the same stadium.)

To be clear, I would, all things considered, be fine with the Chargers and Rams moving to LA, certainly compared to an all-AFC move, but I do think it would likely result in one of the teams angling to leave within a decade. But please, NFL owners, don’t let your quest to take advantage of the loyalty of NFL fans to appeal to corporate suits at all costs and desire to still have a “relocation magnet” city (which the deteriorating situations with these teams suggests is becoming a less potent tactic anyway) blind you to the facts on the ground. For once, let common sense reign. If you move two teams to LA, please, at least give serious consideration to restoring the status quo ante 1995.