The NFL didn’t even need the prescribed six days before deciding that Dec. 31, the final Sunday of the 2017 regular season, didn’t have a game worth moving to NBC for a 5:30 p.m. PT/8:30 p.m. ET kickoff.
“We felt that both from a competitive standpoint and from a fan perspective, the most fair thing to do is to schedule all Week 17 games in either the 1 p.m. or 4:25 p.m. windows,” said NFL broadcasting chief Howard Katz in a statement. “This ensures that we do not have a match-up on Sunday Night Football on New Year’s Eve that because of earlier results has no playoff implications for one or both of the competing teams.”
Someone must have also reminded someone that the last time the NFL held a Sunday night game on New Year’s Eve was in 2006 — Chicago hosted Green Bay, in Brett Favre’s final game with the Packers, and thought to be his final game ever. It didn’t matter. It drew 13.4 million viewers, or about 25 percent fewer than usually watched a Sunday Night Football game that season.
While there were a couple of Week 17 games that could have been moved — consider the Chargers’ contest at StubHub Center against Oakland, even if that might terrorize the surrounding Carson neighborhood as night-time fell — there was more reason to keep things as they were, but instead shove all the playoff-implication games into the 1:15 p.m. PT window, head to head.
Even then, some were not publicly pleased.
“I don’t think the NFL did us any favors by moving it back,” Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Tuesday about the fact his team’s game against visiting Cincinnati was shifted from 1 p.m. to 4:25 p.m. ET. “But they don’t care about us. So, we just have to care about ourselves. We have to take care of our own business. That goes for our team, for our fans and for our city. Let’s go win the football game.”
It all sounds like one of those “us against the league” type of rally cries, so good for him. The Ravens are trying to capture one of the two final wild-card spots in the AFC as are the Chargers.
As as the NFL moves five games into that afternoon window, those East Coast teams affected are led to believe this will hurt their attendance because of people who already have New Year’s Eve plans.
Had Cincinnati-Baltimore, Jacksonville-Tennessee and Buffalo-Miami stayed in the early window, their outcomes could have an affect on how the Chargers treated their game against the Raiders.
With both Fox and CBS getting two games to show Sunday — and NBC left waiting for one more TV airing in the playoffs Jan. 6 — the problem now is whether there’s even a game worth watching in the early window.
(One more strange fact to consider: Dallas, Washington, Green Bay, San Francisco and the N.Y. Giants will all miss the playoffs this season — the first time that’s happened in the so-called “Super Bowl Era” of games since the mid-’60s.)
Here’s how it unfolds (no games Thursday or Saturday or Sunday night):
* Chicago (5-10) at Minnesota (12-3, NFC North winner): 10 a.m., Channel 11 (Kevin Burkhardt, Charles Davis, Pam Oliver).
This one goes to 61 percent of the country. The other Fox choices are 8-7 Dallas at 13-2 and NFC East winner Philadelphia (Kenny Albert, Ronde Barber), 7-8 Washington at 2-13 N.Y. Giants (Sam Rosen, Matt Millen) and 7-8 Green Bay at 8-7 Detroit (Dick Stockton, Mark Schlereth)
* N.Y. Jets (5-10) at New England (12-3, AFC East winner): 10 a.m., Channel 2 (Jim Nantz, Tony Romo, Tracy Wolfson).
The other CBS choices are 0-15 Cleveland at 12-3 and AFC North winner Pittsburgh (Spero Dedes, Adam Archuleta) and 4-11 Houston at 3-12 Indianapolis (Tom McCarthy, Steve Tasker, Steve Beuerlein), both of which go to their respective markets of interest.
* Chargers (8-7) vs. Oakland (6-9): 1:15 p.m., Channel 2 (Kevin Harland, Rich Gannon, Amanda Balionis)
That leaves us trying to decipher how the Chargers get in with a win (or even a tie) while these are being played simultaneously on CBS: 6-9 Cincinnati at 9-6 Baltimore (Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts), 10-5 and NFC South winner Jacksonville at 8-7 Tennessee (Greg Gumbel, Trent Green), 8-7 Buffalo at 6-9 Miami (Andrew Catalon, James Lofton) and, for good measure, 9-6 and AFC West winner Kansas City at 5-10 Denver (Beth Mowins, Jay Feely).
* Rams (11-4, NFC West winner) vs. San Francisco (5-10): 1:15 p.m., Channel 11 (Joe Davis, Brady Quinn, Jenny Taft)
Look who gets a home game. Davis, the Dodgers’ TV play-by-play man, has his college football partner here for a game that becomes less important than the others — only 11 percent of the country will get it — so they’ve been enlisted.
The other Fox games going on here that we will surely get updates from as the day progresses: Carolina-Atlanta (Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Erin Andrews, going to 72 percent of the country), as the Panthers can still get a first-round bye with a win plus a few other things to fall into place; New Orleans-Tampa Bay (Thom Brennaman, Chris Stillman) and Arizona-Seattle (Chris Myers, Daryl Johnston)