There are endless ways to gauge a team’s success during the NFL season. Sure, there are the traditional gauges like the win-loss record, offensive and defensive ranks, points for vs. points against, and yardage. But if you want to know just how far a team has climbed, look at who gets to watch its games.
As anticipated, the league was eager to move the Dec. 18 matchup between the Broncos and Patriots to Sunday night, bumping NBC’s originally scheduled game between Baltimore and San Diego – a game that even two months ago appeared like it would be a great late season showdown with playoff implications.
But the no-brainer move didn’t happen. CBS keeps the game and 2:15pm MST kickoff.
As best I can tell, the flex fight was unprecedented.
Knowing the ratings juggernaut of Tom Brady versus Tim Tebow, CBS was reluctant to let go – and with good reason. What transpired the past 72 hours is perhaps that most interesting sports media story of the season.
Bringing this all back to the Broncos, in seven games the team went from facing the real possibility of losing the viewership of their own fans to a team that had major networks challenging broadcast contracts, and the NFL breaking its own rules in terms of flex scheduling. (Hey, you set the rules, you can break the rules.)
The whole business and subsequent outcome is a bit of a head-scratcher. Both CBS and FOX are allowed to designate 5 games per season as “protected,” meaning NBC may not flex them into Sunday night. These protected games are declared weeks in advance. CBS put the protected tag on the Jets-Eagles matchup on Dec. 18, thus the Broncos were fair game for NBC. Yet CBS was still able to beat back the flex, possibly with the help of the New England Patriots who reportedly weren’t keen on having an extremely late flight back to Boston during a short week (playing again on Dec. 24th). The Patriots’ preferences hopefully didn’t count for too much in the decision as multiple other teams (Jets, 49ers, and Eagles to name three) have been required to endure equally difficult turnarounds this season without any breaks from the league.
What likely allowed CBS to keep the anticipated ratings bonanza was the fact that the network did draw the short straw this past weekend due to an NBC flex. When Sunday Night Football abandoned the lopsided matchup of Patriots-Colts for Saints-Lions, FOX was only left with two early games. The NFL compensated by moving the Broncos-Vikings game (which CBS had scheduled) to FOX. Given that the game came down to the last play, it’s fair to say CBS lost out on one of the week’s most entertaining games.
In the end CBS got what it wanted, and somewhere within NBC there’s likely someone questioning the true value of a flex ability that suddenly doesn’t have the trump ability they thought it did. It’s not all bad for NBC; Ravens at Chargers should still be an entertaining game.
With the drama finished, it’s now up to the Broncos to keep making a case they deserve to be in the national spotlight as much as anyone. A victory against Chicago would really help.