Week 14 (December 12):
- Tentative game: Chicago @ Green Bay
- Prospects: 4-7 v. 9-3. At this point the Packers are more concerned about the first-round bye than the division, and the Bears may have won on Thanksgiving but that doesn’t mean they have much more to be thankful for than before.
- Likely protections: Bills-Bucs (CBS) and Cowboys-Football Team (FOX).
- Other possible games mentioned on last week’s Watch and their records: Ravens (8-3)-Browns (6-6), Raiders (6-5)-Chiefs (7-4), Niners (6-5)-Bengals (7-4), Falcons (5-6)-Panthers (5-7).
- Impact of Monday Night Football: None.
- Analysis: This may be the NFL’s oldest rivalry, but I’m still not sure the league can in good conscience give the Bears a primetime showcase, certainly against a team with a four-and-a-half-game lead over them in the standings playing at home. The thing holding back a potential flex has always been the lack of options that wouldn’t give NBC both halves of a divisional matchup, which is where the Niners’ winning streak comes in. With the win against the Vikings the Niners are now one of only two non-division-leading teams in the NFC with a winning record (which does mean the Bears are only a game out of the playoffs), and they beat the other one in a Monday night stunner at the start of the winning streak. I said such a win would cement this game’s status as one with wild card implications in both conferences, but the Bengals actually could have taken the AFC North lead if the Browns had beaten the Ravens on Sunday night. Despite all that NBC would probably still much prefer to put on Bears-Packers (which is why I hoped the new TV deal would cement MNF‘s place as a co-main primetime package where most matchups between name teams would go by returning it to ABC full-time, leaving SNF for the actual best games), so I wouldn’t be surprised if the league decided to hold off on a flex (and I might predict they would if the Bears played like you’d expect a team in playoff contention to play against a winless team), but if the league did hold off on flexing in Chargers-Bengals last week because of the possibility that it’d result in SNF travelling to Paul Brown Stadium in consecutive weeks, the one thing preventing the best-case scenario for such a move was the Bears winning a game they may have only won because the winless Lions were trying to lose. The Bears may bring some trainwreck potential, but does the league really want to risk putting on a blowout where the Bears embarrass themselves and the Packers have their way with them, or do they relieve the embarrassment of riches CBS has in the early window with the three best unprotected games?
- Final prediction: San Francisco 49ers @ Cincinnati Bengals.