Category Archives: Football

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.

Will an ACC Network Be Obsolete Before It Launches?

In 2013, a year after financially-struggling Maryland left the ACC for the greener pastures of the Big Ten, the Charlotte News and Observer obtained e-mails that circulated among the leadership of the University of North Carolina, perhaps the single most important school to the long-term survival of the ACC, showing their reaction to the news. Many of the e-mails expressed disbelief at a Sports Illustrated article that claimed that Maryland would make nearly $100 million more in its new conference by 2020, thanks to the Big Ten Network, than it would have made in the ACC, with UNC officials looking for confirmation that Maryland was going to make that much more money (indeed Maryland itself wasn’t aware of it until it started going through realignment talks). But for many college sports fans following the sports media and college sports realignment worlds, the fact that the Big Ten was making oodles more money than any other conference was hardly news, but something that had been widely reported throughout the sports media and had been fueling the current round of realignment from the start. Ordinary college sports fans and bloggers knew more about the financial disparities between the major conferences than the university presidents within them whose job it was to make informed decisions. As Frank the Tank, one of the bloggers most responsible for exposing the implications of those disparities, put it:

It would have been one thing if these were average sports fans just focused on on-the-field results, but it’s quite amazing that university leaders and athletic department officials didn’t seem to be as informed on college sports financial matters as, say, most of the people reading this blog or those that followed the reporting of mainstream media members like Brett McMurphy of ESPN.com, Andy Staples of SI.com and Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com. It’s an indication of the insularity of many universities and athletic departments and partially explains why the inertia in favor of the status quo is often stronger than many conference expansionistas would like to believe. What we’re seeing is that it takes a real external crisis for the vast majority of power conference schools to take notice of the information that’s out there and consider switching leagues.

I thought of this upon hearing about the ACC’s move announced last week to try to rectify this disparity, which has only grown to their further disadvantage with the launch of the SEC (and Pac-12) Network, yet the circumstances surrounding it have changed considerably since 2012. The sports-network market has always been built on the con of the cable bundle, where people with little to no interest in sports see large chunks of their cable bill get shipped off to pay for sports networks, and recent years have seen one piece of news after another suggesting that bundle is being increasingly undermined. My generation sees little value in the bundle and has increasingly been “cord-cutting” to get their entertainment from sources like Netflix and Amazon, getting away from bloated bundles that exist largely to subsidize sports networks. Investors are increasingly concerned about what the trend means for the sports-network market and especially ESPN, which finds itself caught between the rock of cord-cutting and the hard place of their desire to keep the cable bundle going for as long as possible; no less an institution than Moody’s has predicted the end of the cable bundle and that regional sports networks are looking like an increasingly dicey proposition. Meanwhile, cable companies, blamed for higher prices even as they struggle to keep pace with the rising price of sports networks, have increasingly taken stands against the launch of more and more new networks, as evidenced by the carriage struggles of SportsNet LA and the network formerly known as CSN Houston, with SportsNet LA remaining uncarried even as Time Warner Cable has reduced its price and even in Vin Scully’s final season.

Against this backdrop, the ACC has been the one major college conference with a substantial number of third-tier games still airing on broadcast television through regional syndication on Raycom. Assuming broadcast stations could get their act together and ensure wide coverage without relying on the crutch of retransmission consent (hardly a sure thing), I felt that, for all the ACC may have looked longingly at the SEC and Big Ten Networks and the revenue they make, staying the course could prove to give them a massive advantage in exposure if the market flipped and the SEC Network and BTN found themselves limited to what could be a distinct minority of people willing to pay relatively large amounts of money for them or for bundles including them, especially among poorer recruits, and especially if the ACC made an aggressive move to distribute their syndication package nationwide.

Instead, last week the ACC and ESPN announced an extension of their existing media rights agreement for the next twenty years, with the launch of a new “ACC Network Plus” digital network this fall leading up to the launch of a full-fledged linear ACC Network in 2019. I’d be shocked if the cable bundle still looked anything like it does today by 2036, and frankly I’d be surprised if it still looked viable in 2019. Reportedly, the long delay for the launch is related to the expiration of ESPN’s carriage agreements with cable providers, meaning ESPN would rather hold off on the launch of the ACC Network until it can tie it in with its established linear networks. But the addition of the ACC Network to ESPN’s bundle could be what causes the bundle to collapse entirely and marks the fall of ESPN’s empire.

Cable operators have been chafing under ESPN’s tops-in-the-industry subscriber fees for a long time, with Dish Network chairman Charles Ergen suggesting in 2011, following the signing of an expensive Monday Night Football deal, that certain companies might decide to go without ESPN and market their service as a low-cost alternative for non-sports fans, and in recent years many such operators have been experimenting with sports-free packages that offer a selection of popular channels at a lower price, resulting in ESPN’s carriage falling considerably. But no cable or satellite company has taken the plunge and experimented with cutting ESPN out of their lineups entirely, instead limiting the availability of their sports-free packages to avoid violating their ESPN contracts, and online “skinny bundles” that have won considerable acclaim for being an “alternative to the cable bundle”, including Dish’s own Sling TV, have made themselves part of the problem by including ESPN and other sports networks. For now, pay-TV providers feel they must have ESPN’s high-value programming such as MNF and the College Football Playoff, even though they know it’s almost single-handedly fueling the revolt against the cable bundle, because even as the cost of sports drives people away from the cable bundle, the presence of sports is the one thing keeping people tied to it, because live events, especially sports, are the one thing linear TV does better than the Internet. The power of ESPN explains why the SEC Network, theoretically a channel of regional interest, had the largest launch in cable TV history, avoiding even the carriage battles that bedeviled the Big Ten Network.

But for as much as the SEC Network benefited from the ESPN connection, it may not have been so successful if it weren’t sufficiently valuable in its own right. The SEC and Big Ten have the most passionate fanbases and bring the most value to any sports network by a significant margin over any other conference, even any other college conference; the ACC is strong in basketball, but their football conference tends to consist of Florida State and not much else, both in terms of quality on the field and in terms of schools with passionate fanbases that can attract large audiences, and football is what drives TV deals and conference realignment. What may be more relevant to what the ACC Network has to look forward to is the fate of the Pac-12 Networks, which remains uncarried by DirecTV years after launch; it was thought the DirecTV-AT&T merger would smooth along talks, but instead it seems more likely that AT&T will drop Pac-12 Networks from U-Verse systems once that deal expires than that DirecTV will add them. According to Washington State AD Bill Moos, Pac-12 schools were hoping to receive $5 million a year from the Pac-12 Networks at this point, but instead are only collecting $1.4 million. Unlike the SEC and Big Ten Networks, the Pac-12 went it alone on their network without selling any stake to anyone that might have helped their network gain carriage (or shared in the network’s expenses), but thanks to the CSN Houston and SportsNet LA struggles – not to mention ESPN’s Longhorn Network, which recently eliminated much if not all of its studio programming – cable operators are a lot more confident in their ability to stand up to sports networks than they were in the late 2000s when they challenged the BTN.

They may not have wanted to alienate ESPN’s many loyal viewers over the SEC Network, but the ACC Network won’t bring nearly as much value to the table, and while ESPN may have largely escaped the bruising carriage battles other large programmers have fought, if they overestimate how much cable operators are willing to pay for an ACC Network, at least one large programmer may just decide they’ve had enough of ESPN pushing them around and go to war (especially since even with the wait, ESPN’s carriage deals with Comcast, Charter, and Dish Network still won’t have expired yet by 2019, meaning the ACC Network will have to stand and fall on its own merits with them). Even if they don’t, the resulting hike in people’s cable bills might just be the spur cord-cutting needs to cross a tipping point and cause large numbers of people to dump their cable subscriptions en masse – and that assumes it won’t have done so already. Cord-cutting has come a long way in just the last three years – HBO went from disdaining the possibility of a direct-to-consumer offering to offering one in less time – and there’s no reason not to assume it won’t go even further in the next three. If ESPN escapes any major controversy surrounding the ACC Network, it may only be because the popularity of the cable bundle will have shrunk enough for it not to matter, to the point that ESPN might just decide to make the ACC Network the centerpiece of their own direct-to-consumer offering. Any of these scenarios would likely result in the ACC making substantially less money than they might have planned (or, depending on the structure of the contract, ESPN taking a loss on the enterprise).

ESPN likely knows all this, and tried for a long time to dissuade the ACC from the idea, preferring to let a clause activate this summer that would have substantially increased its payouts to the conference (and which, apparently, will still activate in the interim) than to launch a network that would not only lose money or fail to achieve the conference’s goals, but would accelerate the larger trend ESPN has been trying to slow down or fight off. But all the ACC sees is the boatloads of money the Big Ten and SEC are making, even though they have no chance whatsoever at making anywhere near that much, despite the conference’s consultant, Dean Jordan, claiming that if it “performs even moderately, it’ll put the ACC in a situation where they’ll be very, very competitive financially with the upper tier of the collegiate industry”. The ACC is deluded not only about the changes sweeping the video industry, but about its own value compared to “the upper tier of the collegiate industry”. There may have been a time when ESPN could ask for any price for an ACC Network and gotten the ACC money on par with the SEC, but that time has been long past for several years now.

ESPN President John Skipper points out that 93 of the top 100 TV programs in the ratings in 2015 were sports, compared to 14 just five years ago, and takes that as evidence that live sports is growing more popular and that the insatiable appetite for it will justify an ACC network, not that linear television is growing less popular among people who don’t watch live sports. The ACC is confident that ESPN will “find a way to make this work” no matter how untenable the cable bundle becomes in the interim. But that assumes live sports will maintain their elevated position, that the economics of the video content market won’t recalibrate themselves to favor video-on-demand services and linear television becomes the specific subset of the larger video landscape delivering a specific type of content, live content of all types, that it should be, that the linear market doesn’t greatly and rapidly contract to the level actually warranted by the provenance and popularity of live events that are out there, that conference-specific networks reliant on subscription revenue and showing lower-tier games don’t become an increasingly dicey proposition when they have to stand and fall based on their target audience alone. In that case, the best-case scenario for the ACC could be that the SEC and Big Ten networks become equally untenable, and if that happens they’ll still be in better shape than the ACC. I don’t know if the ACC will ever realize the scenario they passed up, but I do know they could find themselves cursing their foolishness – especially if their decision turns out to be the proximate cause of exposing its own foolishness.

Want to learn more about all this? As this post goes up, you still have a few hours left to get my book THE GAME TO SHOW THE GAMES on your Kindle for FREE! Or you can order the paperback or get it on your Kindle for cheap anytime! Find out more about the book by clicking the cover on the sidebar!

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.)

TGTSTG Bonus Content: The Saga of the Longhorn Network

ESPN and Fox had saved the Big 12. Their commitment to pay the Big 12 the same with 10 schools as with 12 schools, coupled with virtually the entire college football world outside the Pac-10 converging to try to prevent conference realignment Armageddon, enabled Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe to offer Texas, Texas A&M, and Oklahoma enough of a financial inducement to stay in their conference and not defect to the Pac-10. Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds effectively said as much, though not in so many words. Though a Longhorns network was “really important” to the school, and a move to the Pac-10 would have precluded that by forcing the school to surrender their rights to the conference for their own network, it wasn’t the “deal-breaker” to back out of the deal. Chris Plonsky, who headed the school’s women’s sports, similarly said that the ability to start a network wasn’t the “linchpin” that kept them in the Big 12, but it was a “very important variable”. Certainly it was a key element allowing the math to work out, and was widely perceived as the bedrock on which the foundation of the entire conference would be built going forward. Unlike other conferences that could plausibly claim to have an all-for-one, one-for-all mentality, the Big 12, it was just made clear, existed only because Texas allowed it to exist, and Texas allowed it to exist because it could collect much more money than the conference’s other schools, with many millions staked on a Longhorn network, an entire network dedicated to one school and potentially beamed directly into the campuses of many of its conference rivals, that would prevent the Big 12 from even considering going down the conference network path their peers were headed down. But Texas, despite having one of the biggest brand names and fan bases in college sports, was about to learn starting their own network would not be easy.

If anyone was as disappointed in the outcome as Larry Scott and the Pac-12, it was probably cable operators and satellite providers across the country. The formation of a handful of superconferences at least would have kept to a minimum the number of networks each of them would have tried to launch. Now, however, Texas, Oklahoma, and even Missouri were each talking about launching their own networks, and it wasn’t clear whether or not SEC or ACC schools would try to follow suit. There seemed to be a sense that launching a network was an automatic ATM guaranteed to let the money flow in. Cable operators wanted to make clear that things were not that easy and that they would take steps to protect their bottom line, and potentially, their customers’ bills. And they intended to make an example out of a Longhorn network.

Perhaps sensing the uphill battle ahead, Texas planned to invest no money in the enterprise and carry no risk if it failed. It would find a partner that could help with distribution and was willing to shoulder all the risk. Fox seemed to be the early leader in the clubhouse; it held most of the rights a new network would need and could conceivably use FSN’s existing deals with cable operators and satellite providers to get the network widely distributed right from the start. Fox also had experience partnering with the Big Ten on the Big Ten Network, something the other major contender, ESPN, had no experience in. But ESPN was able to make a renewed push to score the rights to, and full ownership of, the Longhorn Network. It would have to launch the network from scratch and go through all the bruising battles with cable operators, but as it turned out, if Texas did have to launch the network from scratch, it couldn’t ask for a better partner than ESPN.

The road was very bumpy to start. Even before engaging in high-level negotiations with cable operators, the network had an early misstep when ESPN decided it would be a good idea to air high-school football game, only for other schools to wonder whether that might violate NCAA recruiting rules or otherwise give Texas a recruiting advantage above and beyond that represented by the network itself. That, coupled with ESPN securing the rights to a conference football game, caused some to wonder whether the conference was on the brink of collapse again, and helped push Texas A&M and Missouri to jump ship to the SEC.

Meanwhile, ESPN went to distributors asking for 40 cents a subscriber, expensive for a cable channel but chump change compared to major-conference and regional sports networks (BTN started out charging 70 cents). Nonetheless, as the launch approached the network was far apart in talks with Time Warner Cable, DirecTV, and Comcast, in part because of the uncertainty surrounding high school and conference games, and in DirecTV’s case, because they wanted to wait for conference realignment to settle down (A&M was actively engaged in negotiations with the SEC as the network launched). It did have a deal with Verizon, but lacking a deal with TWC meant most people in Austin and a substantial proportion of people across the state wouldn’t be able to watch Texas’ 2011 home football opener against Rice. With even Verizon’s deal not kicking in until about a week after the network launched, the Longhorn Network opened in just 20,000 households. For all the controversy the network had engendered, almost no one, even within Austin let alone the state of Texas, could see it, and in a prelude to the CSN Houston and SportsNet LA showdowns to come, cable and satellite operators were remaining steadfast; by June, TWC and DirecTV weren’t even talking about carrying the network.

The network added AT&T U-Verse in time for the 2012 season, but the network was starting to look like folly; Oklahoma had gone deep into negotiations with Fox on a branded network, but what eventually emerged was merely a block of programming on Fox’s existing regional sports networks, while football coach Mack Brown, always uncomfortable with the level of access LHN wanted, seemed to imply that the distractions and added intelligence LHN provided may have contributed to Texas’ slow start that season. By 2013, it looked like LHN would enter a third season still without coverage on the largest distributors, casting a shadow over ESPN’s efforts to launch the SEC Network.

But just as the season prepared to begin, ESPN finally reached an agreement for Time Warner Cable to carry the Longhorn network. In March 2014, Disney reached a wide-ranging deal with Dish Network that included carriage for the Longhorn and SEC Networks, with DirecTV doing the same in December. What, exactly, changed to cause such a breakthrough, and whether it was a concession more on ESPN’s part or with distributors, may never be known, but one thing that is clear is that ESPN’s leverage with its panopoly of other networks was key to securing deals, certainly with satellite providers. Would the Longhorn Network have been able to overcome its early struggles to secure deals with distributors with any other partner, or certainly if Texas had opted to go it alone? It’s a question worth asking, and it helps explain why the ACC is still thinking about pursuing a network as a conference rather than individual schools looking into their own networks. Ultimately, the Longhorn Network’s success, as qualified as it is, may have more to do with the power of ESPN’s brand than Texas’.

Note: I’m probably not going to finish this initial series of Bonus Content posts this week; among other things, I still need to help put the finishing touches on the paperback. Hopefully the entire series will be done by the end of next week with whatever other posts I want to put together coming out over the rest of the month.

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.