Cowboys/Redskins An Early Favorite For "Sunday Night Football" In Week 17 (Update: It's Official)

The rematch of Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins’ Thanksgiving Day victory over the Dallas Cowboys in Week 17 could be flexed into primetime on NBC. It would be the second straight year that an NFC East showdown in the final week of the regular season would be rescheduled to “Sunday Night Football.”

It’s hard to believe just two more weeks of the NFL regular season remain.

And that means we draw ever closer to the inevitable – okay, besides going to the mall to return that unwanted sweater you got for Christmas. Week 17, which for the third season in a row under Commissioner Roger Goodell, will consist entirely of matchups between division rivals – with the one possessing the greatest impact on the playoff picture being flexed into primetime on NBC’s “Sunday Night Football.” In Week 17 in 2010, the Seattle Seahawks defeated the St. Louis Rams, and in the final week of the regular season last year, the New York Giants eliminated the Dallas Cowboys; both of these teams would win subsequent playoff games televised on NBC (the Seahawks in the Wild Card round, and the Giants in Super Bowl XLVI).

The divisions represented by these teams have a great shot at making their second appearance on “SNF” in Week 17 under the new format.

First, let’s eliminate the divisions where the leaders are so far ahead, it should not make much of a difference what they do in Week 17: AFC East (New England Patriots); AFC South (Houston Texans); AFC West (Denver Broncos); and NFC South (New Orleans Saints).

True, a first-round playoff bye may be on the line between the Patriots, Texans and Broncos, but consider this: the Patriots are hosting the Miami Dolphins, and they’ve been so dominant at home in primetime, and in primetime in general this season (need we remind you what they did in New Jersey on Thanksgiving night?) that the chances of the game being out of reach early are high. Also, the Texans hosted the Indianapolis Colts today for what will be a home-and-home over a 15-day period, and had the Colts upset the Texans in Houston, the Week 17 rematch might have been a shoo-in for primetime, but the Texans win pretty much puts a cushion betweem the two teams; of course, if the Colts find themselves in a “win and you’re in” scenario, it’s still possible that Andrew Luck might bring the Colts back to “SNF” for the first time in the post-Peyton Manning era. And as for Manning’s current team, the Broncos, well, they’re playing the Kansas City Chiefs, who are not only execrable this season, but are 0-3 on NBC in the Fred Gaudelli era. Nuff said.

The NFC North also appears to be all but conquered by the Green Bay Packers, but the team they face in Week 17 is the Minnesota Vikings – a team that’s nipping at the Packers’ heels in the division, and has a running back in Adrian Peterson who’s on pace to break Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards, and he needs just shy of 300 yards in two games to do it. But the Vikings’ next opponent, the Houston Texans, has a stingy run defense, so it’s too soon to determine what happens with the Packers/Vikings game until Peterson plays another sixty minutes. Remember, the league reconfigured the Week 17 Sunday night game to feature teams that are playing a game that will essentially name the winner of that division. Of course, when given the choice between watching a dynamic athlete break a record that has stood for nearly three decades, or a Rams/Seahawks game, I think the answer is easy. So based on the potential of history being made, with one of the biggest names in the game, I wouldn’t rule this one out yet, even if the Packers have long clinched the NFC North. Stay tuned.

So, we’re down to three divisions, and we’ll start with the AFC North. You have the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have made the fifth-most appearances on NBC since 2006 with fifteen, hosting the Cleveland Browns, and you have the Cincinnati Bengals hosting the Baltimore Ravens, who have won six out of their nine appearances on NBC’s air. By the way, since 2006, Ohio has been 0-for-6 on NBC, including five Bengals games, two of them in the postseason. Realizing the Bengals’ dubious record on NBC, coupled with their penchant for having games blacked out due to low ticket sales, plus add to the mix the fact that they’re hosting the Ravens, who have abruptly switched offensive coordinators and have already lost their first game under their new one, the prospect of putting that game in primetime probably isn’t making the league and NBC suits’ mouths water. Nor is the possibility of a Steelers team playing the cellar-dwelling Browns. So in my view, you won’t be seeing the Steelers make their fourth “SNF” appearance of the season, nor a Ravens trifecta on NBC this year. But as always, I could be wrong.

Anyway, that leaves two divisions in the NFC where the top spot is up for grabs. First, the NFC West situation: the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks are fighting for first place. But keep in mind that the 49ers will be playing two Sunday night games in a row, including one that’s been flexed into primetime in Week 16 – and that game is in Seattle. Fast forward to Week 17, and you’ve got the Seahawks hosting the Rams, and the 49ers hosting the Cardinals. Given how bad the Cardinals have been since October (oh, they beat the Lions by four touchdowns after losing by nearly sixty points the previous week – big whoop), you can count out the latter matchup, and the possibility of a team appearing on “SNF” for three consecutive weeks. Which means that for the second time in three weeks, a Rams/Seahawks game in Seattle in Week 17 could be moved into primetime. The Rams, despite being a shade under .500, are amazingly undefeated (4-0-1) against opponents in the division. The Seahawks, meanwhile, are undefeated at home, and depending on how the 49ers fare in Centurylink Field on “SNF” in Week 16, the NFC West division may as well be decided in primetime that week.

And that leaves the NFC East, a division where three out of its four teams have made the most appearances on NBC since 2006 – most recently a matchup between two teams both under .500, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys. In Week 17, both of these teams will be on the road: the Eagles at the New York Giants, and the Cowboys at the Washington Redskins. This division is literally a three-team race going down the stretch, but only one thing matters: the RG3 factor. Robert Griffin III is having an outstanding rookie campaign – yet he only has one primetime game to show for it (in Week 13 vs. the Giants on “Monday Night Football” on ESPN). Of course, there was the game on Thanksgiving Day that gave Griffin his first national exposure – in Jerry World, a game in which he led the Redskins to four touchdowns in the first half.

The Redskins, 2-0 in these games, currently share a lead in the NFC East. The Cowboys, well, they haven’t made the most appearances on “Sunday Night Football” for nothing (the Eagles/Cowboys tilt back in Week 13 was their twenty-first).

Regardless of the results of the Week 16 games between the Giants and the Ravens, the Cowboys and the Saints, and the Eagles and the Redskins, I am confident that the Cowboys/Redskins rematch in Week 17 will be flexed into primetime.

An equation of “America’s Team” and RG3 (provided he’s healthy) with the division on the line adds up to an enticing matchup.

So if you’re going to that game on December 30, I’d reschedule my plans for that evening if I were you.

UPDATE, 12.18.12: WIP Radio in Philadelphia reported today that the Cowboys/Redskins game on December 30 has been moved to a start time of… 4:25 PM. There’s nothing to back this up, I was just going by what I heard on the radio. Halfway to primetime. But it’s still a candidate to be moved to “Sunday Night Football”: based on how teams with their own playoff implications on the line perform in Week 16, the league will obviously move a game with “win or go home” potential into primetime. Or if the NFC East, NFC West and AFC North are suddenly all decided, and Adrian Peterson runs for over 150 yards against the Texans, the Vikings’ (regular?) season finale against the Packers could see itself being moved to NBC, as I speculated earlier – but of course, that’s a huge longshot as long as the NFC East, at the very least, has not been decided by Christmas.

So the Cowboys/Redskins game won’t be starting at 1 PM. That much, I was right about. And now the NFL is delaying the inevitable – which, by the way, will officially be announced on Monday.

UPDATE, 12.23.12, 11:39 PM ET: And now, it’s official: With the Redskins winning and the Cowboys and Giants losing, the rematch between the Redskins and the Cowboys in Week 17 will, as projected, be flexed into Sunday night on NBC. The news was announced during the Week 16 presentation of “Sunday Night Football.” This will be the first time since Week 7 in 2010 that the Redskins were featured on “Sunday Night Football.” Since that matchup with the Colts, there have been fifteen games on NBC (sixteen if you count the Super Bowl) in which there was at least one NFC East team – eight of them games between two NFC East teams. So it’s safe to say the Redskins are long overdue.

Regional Roundup: NFL Week 10

LeSean McCoy and the Philadelphia Eagles will host the Dallas Cowboys this weekend in what could be dubbed “the Gruden bowl” – both teams have struggled this season, and may be a prime candidate to hire Jon Gruden away from ESPN, should they let their current head coach go.

The Super Bowl champions are in the dark again, and it looks like a new streak is about to start in Florida. It’s Week 10 in the NFL, and Fox has the doubleheader.

EARLY GAMES

CBS: Jim Nantz and Phil Simms will be making a rare trip to Charlotte, as Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers host Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in an inter-conference matchup. I wonder if Nantz was given a choice between a Broncos road game, or a New England Patriots home game against the lowly Bills? Then again, Nantz traveled to Buffalo last year for a game with the Broncos during their “Tebow Time” phase… I’m just throwing that out there because I have heard a few people suggest Nantz “favors” the Patriots. Allow me to stick Week 10, 2012 in their faces. Anyway, Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts will be working that divisional battle in Foxboro. And what about CBS’ number two booth team of Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf? They’ll be in Baltimore as the Ravens and their depleted defense try not to get their wings clipped by the Oakland Raiders. Also, Spero Dedes and Steve Tasker will be in South Beach, as the Tennessee Titans pull their weight against the Miami Dolphins. And Kevin Harlan and Solomon Wilcots will be broadcasting from Tampa Bay, where the Buccaneers hope to follow up a record-setting performance last week in Oakland with an exciting home game against the San Diego Chargers. Too bad folks in the Tampa area won’t be able to watch it on television. That’s right, the Buccaneers’ recent home sellout streak of one game has come to an end. Not even a four-touchdown, 251-yard performance by Doug Martin could inspire Bucs fans to watch the game live at Raymond James Stadium – and as a result, the rest of the city will not be able to watch the game at all. It was fun while it lasted. Enjoy the Titans/Dolphins game you’ll be watching instead.

FOX: The opponent in the Bucs’ lone sellout to date, the New Orleans Saints, will host the undefeated Atlanta Falcons, in a game that will be called by the trio of Kenny Albert, Daryl “Moose” Johnston and Tony Siragusa. Like Falcons/Saints, there will be another divisional tilt some hundreds of miles north, as the Detroit Lions face the Minnesota Vikings, whose quarterback has not been playing very well ever since he confirmed he was dating an ESPN personality. But at least he isn’t David Petraeus. Anyway, you can hear Dick Stockton and John Lynch working that game. Meanwhile, the New York Giants didn’t necessarily play like world champions at the end of last week’s game against the Steelers, and for the second week in a row, they’ll be playing an AFC North team in the Cincinnati Bengals. Unfortunately for viewers in the Cincinnati area, they won’t be able to watch the game, as the Bengals have also failed to sell out their game, just like the aforementioned Buccaneers; incidentally, both of these teams had the most trouble selling out games last season. On the other side of the coin, it’s hard trying to remember the last game that was blacked out in which the Giants, let alone a Super Bowl champion, was involved. But in a bit of irony, it’ll be just shy of the two-year anniversary of the Giants’ own in-game blackout at their brand new stadium. For those that are able to watch Giants/Bengals, you will hear Thom Brennaman and Brian Billick interpreting the action.

LATE GAMES

CBS: Just one game in the late window on the Eyeball network – and who better than the great Marv Albert to have exclusivity? He and Rich Gannon will call the New York Jets at Seattle Seahawks game, which, in addition to the home teams’ bases, will also be seen in each of the markets whose teams were involved in the Fox early games.

FOX: The Dallas Cowboys. The Philadelphia Eagles. One team will win. One team (or perhaps both) will fire their coach at the end of the season. And one might just land a certain ESPN analyst as their next coach. The drama is there, but the wins are not. But when Joe Buck and Troy Aikman are assigned to work this pivotal NFC East matchup, everybody wins. At the same time, there will be another divisional duel in the Bay Area, as the St. Louis Rams visit the San Francisco 49ers. Chris Myers and Tim Ryan will call this game, which will be seen in virtually the entire state of California, except Los Angeles, where the Rams once called home.

A small addendum this week, as Deadspin posted their own item this afternoon based on the NFL maps and “which market is getting screwed this Sunday.” The author determined that the city of Sikeston, MO would get that distinction; however, Sikeston is not a market. That city is actually part of the designated market area (DMA) of Cape Girardeau, MO. Interestingly, someone at KBSI-TV, the Fox affiliate in Cape Girardeau, must have been reading Deadspin’s piece, because since that item was published, the latest map on the506.com shows that they will be showing “the best matchup” in the early game window, Falcons/Saints, instead of Giants/Bengals. By the way, did you know that Cape Girardeau is the hometown of Rush Limbaugh? I’m sure he didn’t have a very good week.

Information from the506.com was used in this post.

The New NFL Blackout Rule: Thanks For Nothing? Bucs Buy In, Others Not So Much

Just because the NFL announced the opportunity for teams to scale back the sellout barometer and avoid TV blackouts, doesn't mean they're all in. Teams such as the Colts and Chargers decline the new 85% blackout rule, while the Jaguars mull doing the same. The Buccaneers, who had five home games blacked out in 2011, and the Bengals, with a half-dozen games not shown on local TV last year, are now on the clock.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Last week, the NFL announced a modification to its long-standing blackout rule. Instead of a home game being blacked out if 100% of tickets for that game are not sold, the league allowed them to be shown in their local markets if only 85% of tickets are sold.

What sounded like an easy fix to a controversial rule at first will instead cause the same old headaches for long-suffering fans. That’s because teams whose games could be assisted by the new 85% sellout rule are instead choosing the status quo. The league is soliciting decisions from all 32 teams on which blackout threshold they will use – and they have until Sunday to make up their minds.

The Indianapolis Colts, who will be playing with first overall draft pick Andrew Luck under center, carry a 79-game home sellout streak into the 2012 season – and they plan to put it on the line as they opt not to scale back their sellout threshold. Miraculously, the team depending on folks like Dan Orlovsky and Curtis Painter at quarterback in relief of a post-op Peyton Manning still managed to sell out all of their games at Lucas Oil Field in 2011 (though the Fox affiliate in Fort Wayne had alternate plans for one week). There’s no telling if Luck will play good football or stink up the joint in his debut NFL season. But a high-ranking Colts executive pleaded that “we need people in the stadium” because “we’re a small-market team.” That executive was also of the opinion that most of the NFL teams will forego the 85% rule and depend on SRO’s to get games shown on local TV.

The San Diego Chargers are another team sticking with the old blackout policy. In 2011, the Bolts had two games blacked out, while just avoiding a third in their season finale at Qualcomm/Snapdragon Stadium. “This market has shown an ability to sell out games over the last ten years,” remarked team CEO/executive VP AG Spanos, who argued that the blackout policy, even with its new 85% option, is “not… flexible.”

As of Friday, we can add the Buffalo Bills, victims of three blackouts last year, to the mix. And Jacksonville Jaguars President Mark Lamping expressed intentions of standing pat with the old blackout rule; they managed to stave off blackouts in the 2011 season, including the season finale against the aforementioned Colts, who also sold out their home games this year, minus Manning.

The two teams to keep an eye on over the weekend are teams that had a combined eleven home games denied on local television due to poor ticket sales: The Cincinnati Bengals, despite qualifying for the playoffs last year, had six games blacked out. And the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who went the other direction in losing the last ten games of their season overall, had five games warrant blackouts due to empty seats at Raymond James Stadium.

It would make sense for the Bengals and Buccaneers to take advantage of the new 85% blackout rule, especially the latter, whose city is still smarting from the economic downturn of four years ago. But the Bucs report that the hiring of new head coach Greg Schiano is wooing fans back to the ticket window.

And in fact, shortly after this post went public, the Buccaneers did indeed announce that they will lower their blackout barometer to an 85% sellout. (h/t Kyle Mayer.) “We hope that this move, along with lower ticket prices… will lead to more televised Buccaneer home games this year,” said Bucs VP of business administration Brian Ford in a team release.

Meanwhile, the 85% blackout rule might be redundant for the Bengals due to the capacity of Paul Brown Stadium, which holds upwards of 65,000. One of the biggest critics of the original NFL blackout rule is Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown (D), who has called it “outdated” and “unnecessary.”

Actually, Senator, it’s unnecessary for a team to qualify for the playoffs in a season in which three quarters of its home games were blacked out during the regular season.

And if the teams most plagued by blackouts last year pass up on the opportunity to lower the blackout threshold, football fans will be wondering if this new 85% rule is unnecessary.

Hopefully, Tampa will Buc a trend.

Ochocinco Comes A-Knockin'

With flamboyant wide receiver Chad Ochocinco signing a one-year deal with the Miami Dolphins, HBO is hoping he'll add some juice to the upcoming season of "Hard Knocks." It will be his second appearance on the program in three seasons. The Cincinnati Bengals were featured on the show in 2009.

Over the weekend, rumors began to circulate about wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, who found himself a free agent after being cut by the New England Patriots following an unsuccessful season, ending up on yet another AFC East team, the Miami Dolphins.

The same Dolphins who conveniently just agreed to be featured on this season’s edition of “Hard Knocks.”

And late Monday night, both parties agreed on a one-year deal.

Even though his outrageous and unpredictable personality was bottled up for the most part in New England, and even though, production-wise, Ochocinco has yet to outperform the previous incarnation of himself – when he was playing under his given name, Chad Johnson – Ochocinco’s presence should add some much-needed sizzle to a “Hard Knocks” steak coming off of a very juicy Jets entree. (At least they decided not to settle on Jaguars steak tartar.)

And as a player, Ochocinco’s veteran presence should also make the team relevant. Just how irrelevant is the current Dolphins wide receiving corps? Monday night on “NFL Total Access,” Heath Evans referred to one of the team’s wideouts, Davone Bess, as “Devon Boss.” Ouch.

For Ochocinco, it means he will be making his second appearance on “Hard Knocks,” a production of HBO Sports and NFL Films. In 2009, the program featured the Cincinnati Bengals in what would be Ochocinco’s penultimate year with the team – he played for ten seasons with Cincinnati before signing with New England last year. The 2009 season was also the last of six seasons that he made the Pro Bowl. (To date, of course.)

While it may appear to be destiny (“It’s not destiny. It’s HBO.”) that brought Ochocinco and the Dolphins together, it does mean that the athlete, who grew up in the Miami neighborhood of Liberty City, will get an opportunity to play for the team he grew up rooting for. There’s also the possibility of Ochocinco “finishing his career in his home state,” as ESPN’s Adam Schefter suggested.

Wouldn’t that be a great ending to a colorful career? But it’s not an ending meant for HBO – more like NBC, ESPN, NFL Network, or any broadcasting entity that would benefit from his one-of-a-kind spunk. And they will line up in droves once Ochocinco calls it a career.

And so, a mere three weeks after Chad Ochocinco ties the knot with his fiance (the invite says “Chad Johnson,” but, you know), he will begin training camp with his third NFL team, the Miami Dolphins.

And with HBO’s cameras rolling film, that deal might be a match made in premium channel universe ratings heaven.

There Will Be No Tebow Time To Kickoff The 2012-13 Season On NBC

We won't know until April at the latest when the next installment of the budding rivalry between Tom Brady and Tim Tebow will take place. And while the Patriots lost the Super Bowl to the Giants, there's still a good chance that they can open their season with the Broncos on NBC.

Regardless of the Broncos’ exit from the 2011-12 NFL playoffs, Tim Tebow has been a force to be reckoned with.

That was evident back in late December, when CBS and NBC fought tooth and nail (actually, “nail” may not be the best term to use when you’re writing about Tim Tebow) over who would air a regular season Broncos/Patriots matchup.

Even after the Patriots sent the Broncos packing in the playoffs, CBS expressed interest in having Tebow on their “NFL Today” pre-AFC Championship Game edition (he respectfully declined).

Then there’s the Super Bowl – and no, I’m not talking about the week leading up to it (though there is a mind-blowing update on that). How, you ask, could Tebow be a factor in the Super Bowl, which aired on NBC?

It has to do with who the eventual winner would be hosting on the Thursday following Labor Day – which will air on NBC.

And it’s all contingent on which team prevailed, based on their schedules.

On January 2, right after the conclusion of the regular season, the NFL released each team’s lists of opponents for the season ahead, home and away, based on records, but not the actual schedules – that will happen in April on a date to be determined.

Looking at the Broncos’ schedule, aside from the usual AFC West suspects, four of the other five teams they are scheduled to play on the road made the playoffs this year – Atlanta and Cincinnati, both Wild Card round exits, and both teams that just happened to play in this year’s AFC Championship Game, New England and Baltimore.

Indeed, the NFC division that Denver plays this year is the NFC South, including a home game against the Saints. Which means they would not play the Giants next year, especially on “kickoff” night, should the Giants win the Super Bowl – which they did.

So in order for NBC to start the 2012-13 season with some “Tebow Time,” they would have to be pulling for the Patriots to prevail – which they did not.

Granted, NBC might be happier that the Giants won: their home opponents for the 2012-13 season include New Orleans and Green Bay. Given how the Giants eliminated the Packers en route to their fourth Lombardi trophy, combined with the Saints traveling to Green Bay for the previous season’s Thursday night “kickoff” game, all signs point to the Packers opening the season in New Jersey on September 6.

But it will be a virtual lock that NBC ends up with at least one regular season Broncos game next season. The Broncos games that may likely be scheduled for primetime starts are home games against New Orleans and San Diego, as well as Pittsburgh, whom the Broncos eliminated in this year’s playoffs, and road contests at San Diego, Baltimore and New England.

You have to wonder if Robert Kraft is calling dibs on CBS’ behalf for the Patriots/Broncos game a second straight year.

But it would only be fair if the NFL scheduled that game on a Sunday night on NBC. Especially given CBS aired the previous two go-rounds, including a Saturday night playoff game.

It would only be fair if the Broncos’ third matchup with the Patriots in just the fifteenth game of the Tim Tebow era, was the marquee matinee for NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” franchise for the 2012-13 season.

You would think CBS wouldn’t mind: with commitments to U.S. Open Tennis, FOX traditionally has a doubleheader in Week 1, anyway.

Perhaps the league can pull the wool over everyone’s eyes and schedule the game on ESPN or even their own NFL Network. But such a matchup with tremendous appeal is just too big for cable.

It’ll be interesting to learn where the Denver at New England game ends up in two months (or perhaps sooner; the league has been known to release schedule details for a handful of juicy matchups a few weeks prior to the release of the full schedule).

But make no mistake: NBC will get their share of Tebow Time yet.

Even if it doesn’t “kickoff” the new football season.

Just 212 days left.

Jinx Nantz? CBS' No. 1 NFL Booth Defies Tebow Time, Three Weeks In A Row

Since CBS battled NBC over the Broncos/Patriots game, Denver is now 0-3 - with Jim Nantz and Phil Simms calling all three of those games. Perhaps CBS should relegate them to the bathroom, like Mush from "A Bronx Tale."

Well, I hope CBS is satisfied with themselves.

This all started when CBS engaged in a fierce scrimmage with NBC over who would televise the Broncos/Patriots game back in Week 15. At that point, the Broncos were on a six-game winning streak, and Tim Tebow, supplanted as the Broncos’ starting quarterback after their bye week during Week 6, had been 7-1 as a starter.

Ever since then, all three Broncos games that had been shown on CBS were called by their number one announcing booth of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms.

And wouldn’t you know it, the Broncos end the regular season on a three-game losing streak.

As are Jim Nantz and Phil Simms when it comes to “Tebow Time.”

Funny how karma works.

Let’s review: The Broncos were 1-4 B.C. (before changing starting quarterbacks). In the eight games that followed with Tebow under center, half of them were CBS games. You may recall that one of the originally scheduled CBS games went to FOX after NBC flexed Lions/Saints in Week 13. That would be followed by another FOX game in Week 14. The lone Broncos loss in that eight-game stretch was also a FOX game, Tebow’s second start of the season, in Detroit in Week 8. And there was the NFL Network primetime game in Week 11.

For CBS’ Broncos games in this stretch – all of which were Broncos road games in other AFC team cities, coincidentally – their announcers of choice were: Kevin Harlan and Solomon Wilcots (Week 7 at Miami), Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf (Week 9 at Oakland), Bill Macatee and Steve Tasker (Week 10 at Kansas City) and Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts (Week 12 at San Diego).

With Tebowmania at an all-time high between the Week 13 and Week 14 games, at which point the NFL would decide which game in Week 15, if any, would be flexed into “Sunday Night Football.” NBC, for obvious reasons, had its eye on the Broncos/Patriots matchup. CBS, after realizing that they have been assigning only their second-tier and below announcing teams to Broncos games during the Tim Tebow era, tells NBC, not so fast. They suddenly realized that the Jets/Eagles game that they protected back in October – right around the time Tebow was named the Broncos’ starter – wasn’t as valuable as Broncos/Patriots. Heck, CBS now realized that any game in which the Broncos are playing is gold, period, due to the Tim Tebow factor.

The two networks tussled until one Wednesday afternoon, when NBC decides to pull out and go on with the originally scheduled Ravens/Chargers game that Sunday night on their air.

This is our chance, Nantz and Simms probably said to themselves. Seeing those wild Bronco game finishes take place with the other CBS announcing teams, they would be getting ready to call some “Tebow Time” magic of their own.

Much to CBS’ dismay, Tebowmania would peak after Week 14.

In Week 15, in Denver – on a game that would eventually not be seen on NBC, thanks to the strong-arming of CBS, backed by Patriots owner Robert Kraft – the Patriots would end Tebow and the Broncos’ winning streaks.

Things would get worse in Week 16, where Tebow would throw three interceptions en route to a 26-point defeat in Buffalo. That result, coupled with the Giants’ win over the Jets on Christmas Eve, enabled NBC to opt for Cowboys/Giants on “Sunday Night Football” in Week 17. Now, keep in in mind, NBC could have had any game they wanted, and CBS and FOX couldn’t fight NBC’s taking it. Meaning, they could have taken the Chiefs/Broncos game, which had playoff implications, but certainly not the “win and you’re in” aura that the Cowboys/Giants game possesses – with both teams tied at 8-7, the winner would take the NFC East division, and the loser would not qualify for the playoffs at all – NBC figures this matchup would give them a bigger ratings bonanza than Tim Tebow starring in a revival of “Pink Lady and Jeff.”

So despite the Broncos losing both of their last games on CBS – both called by Jim Nantz and Phil Simms – by a combined score of 81-37, and upon learning that the network would retain their regular season finale against the Chiefs in Week 17, they sent Nantz and Simms back to Denver, anyway.

Granted, CBS could have sent their top announcing duo to a host of other interesting games. Nantz and Simms were usually supplanted at games involving the Patriots, Jets or Steelers. The Patriots had actually came back from a 21-0 deficit against Buffalo and closed the game with 49 unanswered points. The Jets and Steelers were both involved in close games. Even the Titans/Texans matchup was tight. Instead, Nantz and Simms called what turned out to be the lowest-scoring game of the entire weekend, with just ten total points scored. Only one team, the Browns – who were playing the aforementioned Steelers – scored less points as a team.

And perhaps it was poetic justice that the Broncos would score the least points of the weekend.

Tim Tebow would finish the game with just 76 total yards. The Browns’ starting quarterback, Seneca Wallace, would muster nearly three times as many all-purpose yards (220) on this same weekend.

Maybe it was the appeal of the Chiefs’ starting quarterback, Kyle Orton – who was the Broncos’ starting quarterback at the start of the season – facing his former team and possibly eliminating them from playoff contention, that led to CBS deciding to plug Nantz and Simms in for that game. (Note that they did call a Broncos game this season, in Green Bay – but it was back in Week 4, when Orton’s tenure with Denver was still in effect.)

Or maybe it was because they were so determined to have a “Tebow Time” moment at their expense. Certainly, if the likes of Bill Macatee and Ian Eagle – with due respect – called such games on CBS’ air, Nantz was due, right?

And with a 7-3 score for most of the second half, clearly, the possibility of another episode of “Tebow Time” was on the horizon.

Alas, Denver’s four ensuing possessions since a third quarter field goal would end in punts; their final possession, with less than a minute remaining, would end with an interception.

Three straight games with Jim Nantz and Phil Simms behind the mic. Three straight losses.

Bill Macatee 1, Jim Nantz 0.

This is exactly what CBS gets for not letting NBC have the Broncos/Patriots game back in Week 15.

In three consecutive games with CBS’ top announcing team in place, the Broncos are 0-3, lose by a combined total of 50 points, and Tim Tebow, with just two interceptions coming into the big Week 15 showdown with Tom Brady and the Patriots that CBS fought like hell to keep off NBC’s air, tripled his pick total.

With all of these factors, I have come to the conclusion that Jim Nantz and Phil Simms are Tebowmania jinxes.

Granted, this is only after one whirlwind season. You can bet Nantz and Simms will likely be calling at least six Broncos games next season. Then and only then will their Tebow jinx truly be put to the test.

Until then, Jim and Phil are Tebow Time mushes.

Incidentally, despite the Broncos’ loss this week, they still clinched a playoff berth by virtue of the Chargers beating the Raiders. And they will host a playoff game next week against the Steelers. Usually, Wild Card Weekend consists of two Saturday games on NBC, and one game each on CBS and FOX. The early word is that the AFC game scheduled for Saturday is the Broncos/Steelers matchup, which means that it would indeed be shown on NBC. The other AFC Wild Card game has the Bengals traveling to Houston for the first playoff game in Texans franchise history, and from what I hear, that is scheduled for Sunday of Wild Card Weekend.

You might recall one of the key items behind CBS fighting NBC over the Broncos/Patriots game was due to their owned-and-operated stations in Denver and Boston.

And, big surprise, CBS also owns a television station in Pittsburgh.

Meanwhile, on Sunday night, it was confirmed that the Texans/Bengals game would be played on Saturday at 4:30 PM ET – and the Broncos/Steelers game on Sunday at 4:30 PM ET.

I guess Sean McManus won’t be doing a lot of heavy lifting this week – but I wonder if Mark Lazarus will be lifting a “terrible towel” on Sunday. That is, if he had any intentions of letting Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth experience “Tebow Time,” for once, provided there is any left this season. CBS realizes that, if the Broncos might beat the Steelers, they’d get another Broncos playoff game the following week, right?

Looks like NBC will have to wait until next year for “Tebow Time” – perhaps on the opening Thursday night season “kickoff” game vs. the team that wins the Super Bowl – if not the Broncos themselves. Bank on it.

In the meantime, Jim Nantz and Phil Simms will have another chance to prove if they are indeed not Tim Tebow kryptonite.

Remember: it ain’t over until Pink Lady sings.

Regional Roundup: NFL Week 17

All the Skittles in the world couldn't save Marshawn Lynch and the Seattle Seahawks from falling out of playoff contention, and that, combined with Cowboys/Giants being flexed to primetime, gives FOX a "single game" aura on Week 17.

It’s the final week of the regular season – and thus, the final opportunity to bring you a rundown of who will be calling what games on the last day of the 2011 NFL regular season – which actually falls on the first day of 2012. Go figure.

Week 17 is traditionally a gung-ho week in that both CBS and FOX have double-headers – save for the markets whose teams will be hosting a game, of course.

EARLY GAMES

CBS: With the NFL flexing many games possessing playoff implications into the late game window, it’s no coincidence that many of the games ending up (or staying) in the early game window don’t really have that much appeal – or they’ve lost a lot of the appeal that they might have had at least a month ago. Case in point: The New York Jets are now a longshot to make the playoffs after losing two straight games that they had a considerable chance of winning. Still, CBS is sending Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf to cover the Jets’ likely season finale in Miami, in a game that will be seen in roughly three quarters of the country. With the Texans clinching the AFC South division long ago, their game with the Titans is meaningless, but in a good way. Bill Macatee and Steve Tasker will call this game, which will be seen in the entire state of Texas; the entire state of Tennessee; and for some reason, Seattle, as well. Two of the reasons that the Texans were able to lock up the AFC South – the 4-11 Jaguars and the 2-13 Colts – will square off in Jacksonville; Spero Dedes and the venerable Steve Beuerlein will be handling this one; only the entire state of Indiana will see it, as well as Jacksonville. (Yes, they actually sold out another game!) And had Buffalo not lost seven straight games, perhaps their matchup with New England would have been flexed out to a later window – heck, maybe Gumbel and Dierdorf would have called it. Instead, CBS’ D-team of Don Criqui and Randy Cross will call this game, which will be seen in Atlanta, Oklahoma City and Portland, OR, in addition to the usual Northeast territories.

FOX: I suppose my previous statement about the early games in Week 17 not having enough spunk goes out the window with the announcement that FOX’s A-team, Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, will be in New Orleans for the Panthers/Saints game. But they’ll possibly be witnessing some more history, as Drew Brees, one week (okay, six days since he last played on Monday Night Football) removed from breaking Dan Marino’s single-season passing yardage record, looks to build on that record – but it’s contingent on whether or not it will be a close game; figure if it’s a blowout on either side, Brees will be benched in preparation for the playoff run ahead. Though New Orleans could grab a first-round bye by the end of the day, so maybe Brees plays from start to finish. We’ll see – and if you’re in the bottom half of the country, or in the Northeast, chances are you will. Regardless, I’m sure Joe and Troy would rather be in East Rutherford to call the Cowboys/Giants game that will decide the winner of the NFC East, with the loser going home; alas, that was immediately flexed out to Sunday night to NBC, no sooner than a combination of the Giants beating the Jets, and Tim Tebow throwing multiple interceptions, took place. By the way, if you’re on the Eastern seaboard, you won’t be able to watch Panthers/Saints – you’ll be stuck watching the Redskins/Eagles game (aka the anti-NFC East championship game) being called by FOX’s F-team of Ron Pitts and Charles Davis; regardless of who wins this one, both teams will be going home. Meanwhile, in Minneapolis, where a strong Metrodome roof is a welcome sight these days, the Vikings host the Chicago Bears in what will be the season finale for both of these teams, as well; Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston and Tony Siragusa will handle this one. Thom Brenneman and Brian Billick will be at Lambeau Field for the only game in the early window in which both teams could still be playing later in the month. We know the Packers have locked up everything but the kitchen sink; with that said, the Lions could be expecting a tame Packers team (pardon the pun) which could ease Detroit into the playoffs. And with the Lions actually being favored in this game, being played in Green Bay, even the Cowardly Lion thinks this Lions team has all the courage in the world to get a win. Finally, the 49ers visit St. Louis is what will likely be the final game for at least some major Rams personnel – the head coach and general manager have been rumored to be sent packing at season’s end – and Chris Myers and Tim Ryan will have the call.

LATE GAMES

CBS: Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself in anticipation of a future column subject, but have you noticed that ever since CBS won that wrestling match with NBC over who would air the Patriots/Broncos tilt, Denver has lost two straight games? And is it a coincidence that both of those games were called by The Eye Network’s top-tier booth of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms? Well, it just so happens that the duo will once again be calling a game in which the Broncos are involved, for a third straight week. Will it be three in a row in the “L” column, as well? We’ll find out, as the Chiefs, led by Kyle Orton – who, you may recall, had started the season with the Broncos – head to Sports Authority Field at Mile High to take on Tim Tebow and his crew. At the moment, Denver leads the AFC West, but a loss here, and it could possibly go to the Oakland Raiders – who are playing at the exact same time, against the San Diego Chargers, in a game that will be called by the legendary Marv Albert, and former Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon. Figure that all but one team will be looking at the scoreboard – the Chargers will probably be looking at the clock on the scoreboard, because they can’t wait to get rid of Norv Turner and A.J. Smith. Also, the Cincinnati Bengals, who were able to successfully sell out a home game with a rare “two-for-the-price-of-one” ticket promotion – as long as it isn’t “ten-cent beer night,” right? – could successfully secure a wild card spot against the team that has all but secured a wild card spot themselves, the Baltimore Ravens. Both the Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers are tied atop the AFC North at 11-4 and are guaranteed playoff berths. And there’s a good chance that both of them will finish the afternoon at 12-4, because the Steelers will be playing the 4-11 Browns. By the way, Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts will be calling Ravens/Bengals, while Kevin Harlan and Solomon Wilcots have Steelers/Browns. (Can’t forget the announcers; they’re the reason these posts were written in the first place!)

FOX: It might be a double-header week for both FOX and CBS, but it probably feels like FOX has the single game deal this week, what with one of the NFC games being shifted to primetime on NBC, and most of the games being played in the early game window. (Am I the only one who noticed how all eight AFC matchups on CBS were evenly divided between the two windows?) How bad is FOX’s Week 17 late game window? Only one of the teams in these two games – the Atlanta Falcons – even has a sniff of making the postseason. And considering they’re just off of a 29-point loss to the Saints, and their opponent is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who are on what appears to be a 29-game losing streak, in any language, this could get ugly. And Dick Stockton and former Buccaneer John Lynch will call all the action – or lack thereof (sorry, Mr. Lynch). The other FOX late game sees Seattle – which had playoff implications up until last week – travel to Arizona; Sam Rosen and Chad Pennington will call that mess.

May you have a happy and healthy New Year. Thanks for reading!

Information from the506.com was used in this post.