Week 14 (December 11):
- Tentative game: Kansas City @ Denver
- Prospects: 9-2 v. 3-8. The Broncos are not living up to the hype of Russell Wilson’s arrival, and this game is probably too lopsided to keep around.
- Likely protections: Jets-Bills or Dolphins-Chargers (CBS) and Bucs-49ers or Eagles-Giants (FOX).
- Confirmed or implied protections (see below): Jets-Bills (CBS) and Bucs-49ers (FOX).
- Other possible games mentioned on last week’s Watch and their records: Eagles (10-1)-Giants (7-4),
Jets (7-4)-Bills (8-3), Dolphins (8-3)-Chargers (6-5), Bucs (5-6)-Niners (7-4).
- Impact of Monday Night Football: None.
- Original analysis as of 11/27: Everything depends on what the protections are. Eagles-Giants actually has a decent chance to be unprotected, as while Bucs-Niners was a battle of 3-2 teams at the time Brady’s star power and the relative expectations surrounding the teams involved might still have favored it. With the Bucs losing to the lowly Browns, though, I don’t expect them to be flexed in. Jets-Bills is the next-best game on the slate but is probably protected, which brings us to Dolphins-Chargers, which as the late singleheader is the type of game the league tends to go to bat for to flex in (especially with the tentative being a West Coast game that can be plugged in to the slot), and with Rams-Chargers increasingly likely to be flexed out Week 17 the Chargers becoming maxed out on appearance limits after being flexed in earlier in the year shouldn’t be an issue. (Though the possibility of Titans-Chargers being flexed in next week could be a bigger issue, though I doubt it; more on that in the next full Flex Schedule Watch.) I didn’t think it was so compelling as to be absolutely necessary to be flexed in, but with the Chargers beating the Cardinals it’s actually only a game worse in the worse team’s record than Jets-Bills, and while the teams don’t have as much name value the quarterback matchup of Tua v. Herbert might be more compelling. I don’t know if it’s bumping out Eagles-Giants, which might be too good to be consigned to the early doubleheader but can’t displace the West Coast-based Bucs-Niners as Fox’s featured game (the Eagles would be maxed out on primetime appearances but their games the next two flexible weeks aren’t factors to be flexed in). If it’s protected Dolphins-Chargers should easily be the pick, but if it isn’t I could see it going either way. Does the name value, big markets, and better records of a pair of NFC East teams trump its lopsidedness (and general sense of the Giants wilting against good teams) and Dolphins-Chargers being in a worse time slot? I think Eagles-Giants comes out on top in that comparison, but I’m not confident about it. (Frankly, I’m not even sure Eagles-Giants’ name value trumps lopsidedness if the comparison is with Jets-Bills; if the latter game gets picked I’d be more surprised it was left unprotected than that it was picked.)
- UPDATE 11/28 2:45 PM PT: In his Football Morning in America column Monday, Peter King suggests that the league could decide between Eagles-Giants, Dolphins-Chargers, and Bucs-Niners, with the last involving Fox relinquishing its protection. Brady is compelling, the Niners are compelling, and the Bucs are managing to lead the NFC South despite being below .500, but I still feel like if Fox insists on keeping Eagles-Giants it would be better and simpler to simply flex in Dolphins-Chargers, especially since King doesn’t even mention Fox moving Eagles-Giants into the late slot, instead suggesting they’d like to get a Mahomes game back (and you know how I feel about SNF tentatives becoming lead DH games). The problem is, the cupboard is pretty bare in Fox’s early window without Eagles-Giants (I mentioned Vikings-Lions as a dark horse flex possibility but that was contingent on the Lions getting to 5-6 at best and now if the Vikings don’t clinch the division this week that game would be to do so, and Texans-Cowboys might get more distribution anyway); King points out that Fox would have only two games in the early window if Eagles-Giants moved to SNF or even 4:25, and Dolphins-Chargers, Bucs-Niners, and Chiefs-Broncos are all West Coast games that can’t fill the void, so Fox would need CBS to crossflex them a game to have a viable early window and that would still involve teams at 4-7 at best (Browns-Bengals? Ravens-Steelers if the Steelers win tonight? Jaguars-Titans???), except the AFC teams are a half-game further out of the wild card.
I don’t think crossflexing a game to Fox is a problem necessarily (giving AFC North territory outside the home markets of the crossflexed game the ability to watch both games would be a tangible benefit to moving one to Fox), and I had seen people on the 506sports Discord speculate that flexing in Eagles-Giants would require a crossflex, but hearing it from King carries more weight for me than the randos there (no offense, you’re still better than my commenters!) and this was the first I’d heard of the problem being more than just the poor quality of the games. I had just barely decided to go with Eagles-Giants over Dolphins-Chargers, but this has me thinking that Fox would be more insistent on keeping Eagles-Giants than CBS would be on keeping Dolphins-Chargers, and if the league is seriously considering having Fox relinquish its Bucs-Niners protection that would further tip me towards Dolphins-Chargers. Even then, though, I’m not really any more confident about it. (And this is probably the last time I put up a Last-Minute Remarks post shortly after the Sunday night game as opposed to Monday afternoon.)
- Final prediction (revised): Miami Dolphins @ Los Angeles Chargers.