The final week of the regular season is unique in regards to television coverage. For starters this is the only week of the season (other than the Super Bowl, of course) in which every NFL game is played on the same day; there are no games on Thursday, Saturday or Monday. Secondly fans get a reminder of what it was like before the merger: this is the only time of the year when there are two games on both networks. Normally one network gets a doubleheader each each week and the other network can only broadcast one game in each market; Sunday both get to show two gets almost everywhere.
As far as out of town Pats fans being able to catch the Pats fans, unless you live in Bills territory, forget it: the imminent demise of the Jets and Rex Ryan is apparently the storyline that CBS finds most compelling. The only television markets that will air the Pats-Bills game are the ones in New England dedicated to Pats coverage (Boston, Springfield, Providence, Hartford, Burlington, Vermont and three stations in Maine), and the ones that faithfully air Bills games in northern New York (Buffalo, Syracuse, Watertown, Rochester, Elmira and Erie).
Another thing that is unique about week 17 television coverage is that the NFL decides on its own, with no input from the networks which games will be played at what times. Now I applaud them for doing this, in an attempt to avoid lame duck games whenever possible where a team is playing whose fate was already decided earlier in the day. But by not consulting with the networks you end up with some odd television coverage – or lack thereof. Â For example the NFL moved both the Bengals at Ravens and Steelers at Browns to 4:15 – games that will determine the number two, number five, and number six seed in the AFC – but CBS could care less; they’re going to hype the return of Kyle Orton versus the quarterback who replaced him, Tim Tebow in the Chiefs at Broncos game. If CBS isn’t going to give wide distribution to those two AFC North game, then wouldn’t it have made more sense to leave them in the earlier time slot? Either one of those games would have been more compelling than the Jets (who need four specific outcomes to make the playoffs) at Miami, who was eliminated long ago.
Meanwhile over at Fox their executives must be gnashing their teeth over what to broadcast where because as of right now they still haven’t come to a decision. Despite having far more big market teams, Fox is going to get creamed by CBS in the ratings this week. The one NFC game of interest – the ‘win and you’re in, lose and you’re out’ game for the NFC East and number four seed between the Giants and Cowboys – was flexed to Sunday night. With the Bears losing last week all the other NFC playoff spots are sewn up, and the late games they were have available from the NFL – Tampa Bay at Atlanta and Seattle at Arizona – are sure to draw very little interest. In my opinion the NFL should have moved the Panthers at Saints to the late slot in order to market Cam Newton versus Drew Brees, and left the Falcons game in the early slot. Besides being better for the network, it would mean that both the Falcons and Lions – who are competing for either the fifth or sixth seed – would be playing at the same time. If you don’t think that matters then consider this: who would you rather face, the Cowboys-Giants winner, or the Saints in the first round? And if both of those two happen to advance, who you rather face in the second round, the 49ers or the Packers?
So for out of town fans like me, once again it is off to the local sports bar to watch the Pats play. At least it’s an early game; hopefully the Pats can get off to an early lead for a change and let some of the backups see some playing time. For a visual look at what games are on in your area, check out J. P. Kirby’s maps at the506.com.