ESPN Might Restore Faith On "Monday Night Football" (Hill, That Is)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fear not, football fans: Faith Hill, legs and all, may once again be gracing TV screens before football games - perhaps on ESPN, which revolutionized the form with Hank Williams, Jr. on "Monday Night Football."

Fear not, football fans: Faith Hill, legs and all, may once again be gracing TV screens before football games – perhaps on ESPN, which revolutionized the form with Hank Williams, Jr. on “Monday Night Football.”

Last month, Faith Hill announced a “difficult decision” to depart as the artist performing prior to “Sunday Night Football” on NBC for six seasons.

On Tuesday, NBC announced that another country recording artist, Carrie Underwood, would replace Hill on the broadcasts starting with the season kickoff game on September 5.

I would not be surprised if this news did not sit well with Faith Hill. This video from a country music award show tells you all you need to know:

Anyway, I have a gut feeling that Faith will eventually be back in the game before long.

Because there are two other nationally televised weekly football broadcasts that could definitely use her services as an upgrade.

And who are ESPN and NFL Network to say no to the woman who belted out a loose version of a Joan Jett song customized for the opponents of that night’s game on the top-rated show in primetime?

Last year, in conjunction with “Thursday Night Football” expanding from eight games per season to thirteen, NFLN brought in Cee Lo Green to perform a theme song to the beat of The Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop.” As far as we know, the deal is for at least one season.

But with Faith Hill being a free agent, NFLN could very well tell Cee Lo, “forget you” – or something similar, anyway.

Then, there’s ESPN, whose “Monday Night Football” was for years the model for this device, with Hank Williams, Jr. being known for asking that burning question to viewers, “Are you ready for some football?” The song had been performed before “MNF” starting in 1989 on its original network, ABC, carrying over to ESPN in 2006, until he decided to compare President Obama to Adolf Hitler on the morning of October 3, 2011 – which happened to be a Monday; his intro was yanked from that night’s Buccaneers/Colts game. ESPN would later drop the singer from their “MNF” broadcasts altogether. Since then, they’ve been leaning on production pieces (similar to the “Journey” series on Fox’s NFL pregame show) and comedy bits airing before the game.

It’s clear that they can’t go this route forever; the current period of pregame pieces should act as a buffer between Hank Jr.’s tenure on “MNF” and his eventual replacement; further, there would be less backlash to let time subside before deciding on a new “MNF” artist, as opposed to just dragging a singer off the street to replace Hank Jr. on the October 10, 2011 broadcast. Certainly, Hank Jr., with his updated version of “All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight” being crooned into living rooms and bars for over two decades, has etched himself into football lore, and ESPN respects that.

And now that Bocephus is pretty much out of the football picture (his recent doubling down on Obama will all but cement that), it’s easier for ESPN to move on to a new artist for the “Monday Night Football” intro.

Could you imagine the innovator of the primetime football game open standing pat with generic intros, while the weekly primetime NFL broadcasts on NBC and NFL Network have artists belting one out?

I say, ESPN shouldn’t stand for being upstaged by the likes of Cee Lo Green. And by hiring Faith Hill to continue her career as an NFL kickoff singer, that would mean NFL Network will have to stand for, well, Cee Lo Green.

Of course, this is all contingent on whether or not Faith Hill’s schedule can accommodate getting back into the grind of recording a song for several weeks. She’d likely need to learn a new one, no doubt. She could also decide to take a year or two off from the NFL.

But something tells me the selection of Carrie Underwood to replace her on NBC is going to speed up this process rather quickly.

Are you ready for some… catfight?

Over 1 Million Viewers Watched "Sunday Night Football" On NBCSN During Obama Newtown Address

 

NBC Sports Network viewership reached seven digits during the period NBC shifted “Sunday Night Football” to the channel as President Obama spoke in Newtown, CT on December 16.

Let me preface this post by saying this: There is absolutely nothing good that could ever come out of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. There can be no benefit at all after somebody takes over two dozen innocent lives, including twenty children.

Anyway, on Sunday night, just as the San Francisco 49ers and the New England Patriots were about to kick off on “Sunday Night Football” in Foxboro, Massachusetts, some 150 miles away, President Obama was set to give a speech at a prayer vigil in Newtown for the shooting victims.

At that point, NBC directed viewers to watch the beginning of the 49ers/Patriots game on either CNBC or NBC Sports Network, while NBC carried Obama’s speech.

The fact that live sports programming aired on CNBC is nothing new – they carried Stanley Cup Playoff games earlier this year. And of course, both CNBC and NBCSN were widely-viewed outlets during this year’s London Olympics, where the channel formerly known as Versus saw some of its highest audience shares in network history.

And perhaps it was their Olympic coverage that helped engrain NBCSN – and more importantly, its channel position – into viewers’ minds, so that they would know where to go to punch up the network, especially in a locked-out season of the NHL, a league whose rights NBCSN has heavily invested in.

Numbers don’t lie: According to figures from Sports Business Journal’s John Ourand, over 2.6 million viewers were tuned into either CNBC or NBCSN for the twenty-five minute period from the beginning of the game, to about 8:55 PM ET, when President Obama punctuated his speech by reading the names of the twenty innocent boys and girls that were senselessly killed on December 14.

And while CNBC had more viewers during this period, there was only a difference of 156,000 viewers betweem the two networks: CNBC, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary, had 1,397,000 viewers, while NBC Sports Network, currently available in around 75 million households, had 1,241,000 viewers.

That has to be a promising sign for a network that is vying to become a worthy alternative to ESPN. They overcame a slow start in the first quarter, bouncing back in the summer with the aforementioned Olympics and NHL playoff games.

And don’t forget, they also reeled in Dan Patrick’s television feed of his radio show – so with the Olympics long over, I’m willing to bet that a large portion of those 1.2 million viewers that found NBCSN were likely “Dan Patrick Show” viewers. After all, it’s the only visible daily programming that’s on the network – well, at least until Michelle Beadle begins her new show on the channel next year.

Overall, the 49ers/Patriots matchup was the second most-watched edition of “SNF” this year, trailing the season opener with the Denver Broncos and their new (old) quarterback, Peyton Manning, battling the Pittsburgh Steelers.

While the NBC broadcast network is tied up with an NFL broadcast package, I wouldn’t say that this will be the last time a live NFL game was shown on NBCSN. The league-owned NFL Network may be contemplating giving the rights to its recently expanded Thursday night football package to another network – maybe TNT, perhaps that new sports network Fox is constructing, or it might be NBC’s new sports network, which is a work in progress.

But the number of people that tuned into the network on Sunday night, who more than likely had no advanced notice of such a programming shuffle beforehand, has to be good news for NBC Sports Group.

Of course, I’m sure NBC and everyone else would have preferred that the bad news that prompted the temporary “SNF” move to NBCSN, as well as CNBC, never happened in the first place.

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.

NBC Fires Norv Turner, Again: Chargers/Jets Flexed Out Of "Sunday Night Football"

NBC is flexing out the San Diego Chargers/New York Jets’ Week 16 game out of primetime in favor of a San Francisco 49ers/Seattle Seahawks matchup. It’s the third time in five seasons that a Sunday night game involving the Chargers was flexed out of primetime.

In just the second time in the last three years, NBC has waited until the latest possible time to exchange a previously scheduled game on “Sunday Night Football” for a more competitive one.

And in both of these instances, it’s the San Diego Chargers that end up getting burned.

They’re used to this, though.

On Monday, the NFL announced that the Chargers’ Week 16 road contest with the New York Jets on December 23 will be flexed out of primetime, with NBC opting for a divisional tilt between the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks. As a result, the Chargers/Jets game is jettisoned to CBS with a 1 PM (ET) start time, while a New York Giants/Baltimore Ravens game that had been scheduled for 1 PM on that day will shift to 4:25 PM, replacing 49ers/Seahawks as “America’s Game Of The Week” on that day.

With Fox protecting three consecutive Giants broadcasts this month, I’m sure Joe Buck wouldn’t want it any other way.

Sure, the Jets and Chargers both won their recent games, both on the road – but after realizing that an Arizona Cardinals defense that allowed nearly 60 points to the Seahawks had allowed just a single touchdown to the Jets the previous week – and mind you, not even to a quarterback named Sanchez or Tebow – NBC decided it would be in the best interest of America to not show the Chargers/Jets game in Week 16, a game that pits a lame-duck head coach with an all-around lame team.

There had been speculation that NBC would flex out the Chargers/Jets game as early as WFAN’s “Boomer and Carton” morning show. Co-host Craig Carton argued that with the Jets being embarrassed on Thanksgiving night by the New England Patriots, they don’t deserve any further national television exposure. (By the way, the Jets’ next game in Week 15 will be in primetime, on the road against the Tennessee Titans.)

And so, these two teams will, as The Big Lead points out, play a 1 PM game in New Jersey for the second consecutive year (the Jets won that Week 7 game, 27-21).

This will be the first and only time this year that a scheduled NBC game will be discarded back to a regional affair. Of course, there will be a final “Sunday Night Football” broadcast in Week 17, with the teams to be determined based on playoff implications stemming from the scheduled games that week, which will all be played on December 30.

The last time NBC waited as long as possible for flexing out a regularly scheduled game was in 2010, also in Week 16, with the Chargers/Bengals game fed back to CBS in favor of a Minnesota Vikings/Philadelphia Eagles game, one that would be played on the night of Tuesday, December 28, 2010, due to severe weather conditions in Philadelphia (incidentally, the Vikings’ own home stadium would be impacted by heavy snow that year, as well).

NBC also made one flex move last year in Week 13, and once again, it was an AFC/NFC tradeoff, with a Colts/Patriots contest (remember, this is the year Peyton Manning missed the entire season) switched for a Detroit Lions/New Orleans Saints matchup. As a reuslt of this arrangement, it actually sent a Denver Broncos road game in Minnesota from CBS to Fox (you may recall this was back in the thick of Tebowmania, when one Tim Tebow was playing for Denver).

With the Week 16 (2012) flex move, this means the 49ers will now have to play two back-to-back Sunday night games, and both of them on the road, as they travel to Foxboro to play the Patriots in Week 15 on NBC before proceeding to the Pacific Northwest the following week. This actually is not the first time a team was in such a position due to flex scheduling: In Week 16 of the 2007 season, the Washington Redskins’ road contest with the Vikings was flexed into primetime in lieu of a 49ers home game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers; the Redskins would also play the New York Giants in what used to be The Meadowlands the preceding week.

Speaking of the Patriots, the Chargers now join them as having been involved in the most games flexed out of primetime. A Chargers/Buccaneers game in Week 16 of the 2008 season also flexed out for a Carolina Panthers/New York Giants tilt – which put the Giants on “SNF” for two weeks in a row (they played in Dallas the previous week).

So there will be at least one previously scheduled primetime game on NBC flexed into an earlier window for the sixth year in a row, including only one game for four consecutive years. In the “SNF” debut season of 2006, in which flex scheduling was first eligible, no games were flexed at all.

If you’re keeping score at home, that’s nine games flexed out of Sunday night in a six-year span – with the Chargers making up for one-third of those games (as well as the Patriots).

Of course, there could have been two games flexed this season: they chose to keep a Philadelphia Eagles/Dallas Cowboys contest in primetime, despite their losing records coming into the game.

The San Diego Chargers and New York Jets, with their losing records? Not so much.

Cowboys Player Dead Following Intoxication Manslaughter, Bob Costas Instantly Mocked On Twitter

With an NFL player involved in a tragedy for the second straight weekend – this time, a Cowboys practice squad player killed by teammate Josh Brent by way of intoxication manslaughter – many are expecting Bob Costas to propose prohibition during halftime of “Sunday Night Football” this week.

It’s the second Saturday in a row where a tragedy involving an NFL player rears its ugly head.

Last week, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher murdered his girlfriend, in front of his own mother, before making what would be his final trip to Arrowhead Stadium, where he would turn a gun on himself, in front of Chiefs head coach Romeo Crennel and general manager Scott Pioli.

Some broadcast outlets, particularly those that have NFL rights, treated the story with justice on their air the Sunday after.

One of them, NBC, decided to let Bob Costas get on his soapbox during halftime of the Sunday night matchup between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys to talk about gun control in the wake of the Belcher incident.

And now, on the ensuing Saturday comes another devastating report from the city where Bob Costas was just this past weekend.

Cowboys defensive rackle Josh Brent was being held in an Irving, Texas jail on charges of intoxication manslaughter. That is different from a simple DUI, which Brent actually was charged with a few years ago.

Anyway, the tragic news stemming from this report is that a Cowboys practice squad player, Jerry Brown, became a casualty of Brent’s drunken doings. Brown, who most recently played for the San Antonio Talons AFL team, was just 25 years old.

So naturally, after yet another dose of bad news involving an NFL player on a Saturday, many people were expecting Costas to stir the pot during halftime of “Sunday Night Football” for the second week in a row. This week, the Green Bay Packers host the Detroit Lions – but I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a ratings uptick in the middle of the “SNF” broadcast.

Here’s a sample of what people were saying on Twitter – I’m surprised “Bob Costas” wasn’t trending.

Fred Gaudelli Justifies Keeping Underperforming Cowboys, Eagles On "Sunday Night Football"

“Sunday Night Football” producer Fred Gaudelli defends NBC’s decision not to flex out the Eagles/Cowboys game, despite both teams’ sub-.500 records. The rivalry between the two teams factored into it, as well as the Cowboys’ vast fan base.

This is a rare week in the NFL where there is no action in the NFC East division until the final two games of the week.

And before the New York Giants square off against the Washington Redskins on Monday night, the Dallas Cowboys will host the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday night.

Yes, the Cowboys, losers of five of their last eight games, including their most recent one on Thanksgiving, and the Eagles, who haven’t won a game since Week 4.

To borrow an old NBC slogan: Must-see TV.

Or is it?

Right before Thanksgiving, NBC announced that they opted not to flex out this week’s Cowboys/Eagles game on “Sunday Night Football.” This even as the teams involved in the game aren’t necessarily having their best seasons on the field. The Cowboys are bad, but the Eagles are far worse.

One might think that keeping this game, a game with a double dog of a pair of teams, in primetime, would be like polishing dog excrement.

And so, it’s up to “Sunday Night Football” executive producer Fred Gaudelli to put some lipstick on this pig.

He appeared on Angelo Cataldi’s morning show on WIP-AM/FM in Philadelphia and explained why mass appeal still exists for a game between two teams that initially was good on paper, but as the month of December starts, there’s a good chance that either one might mail it in.

And as much as the people in Philly didn’t want to hear it, a lot of it had to do with their next opponent.

“The Dallas Cowboys are akin to the TV series ‘Dallas’,” Gaudelli argued. “There’s just drama swirling constantly, no matter what it is.”

And team owner Jerry Jones? “He’s J.R., for a fact.”

And just like the old CBS drama that starred the recently departed Larry Hagman as J.R. Ewing, viewers tune into Cowboys broadcasts in droves, due to the team’s national following across the country, as well as sports fans that thrive to see the proverbial Ewings foiled at their game.

“As many people who want to see them win,” Gaudelli admitted, “there’s probably twice as many people who want to see them lose.”

But the Cowboys aren’t the only NFC East team that’s a force to be reckoned with on “Sunday Night Football.” With this weekend’s tilt, the Cowboys will be playing their 21st Sunday night game on NBC; this is without counting the Wednesday night kickoff game this year, or the Cowboys/Eagles game played on Christmas night (a Monday) in 2006, or any playoff telecasts on Wild Card Weekend. The New York Giants have the second most appearances on Sunday night with 19; again, this is without counting NBC games played on other nights (the Giants had two midweek kickoff games) or weekend playoff games. The Philadelphia Eagles are right behind the Giants with 17 Sunday nighters on NBC; again, this figure does not count wild card playoff games, nor the aforementioned Christmas (Monday) night game, nor the “SNF” broadcast that was moved to a Tuesday night in 2010 due to inclement weather in Philadelphia. And with the exception of playoff games or a Thursday night kickoff game against the Giants, the Washington Redskins bring up the rear in NFC East representations on Sunday nights with just eight appearances – and mind you, those are all in a five-year span: After two home games on NBC in a six-week period in 2010 – and the first, unflexable half of the season, at that – the Redskins have not played on NBC over the last two regular seasons. And like the 2008 season opener, six of those eight Redskins Sunday night games were against division rivals.

In fact, during the “SNF” era, including season kickoff games, this weekend brings the grand total of regular season NFC East division matchups on NBC to 24. While the Cowboys have played the Giants on NBC six times thus far (including a span of three regular season games in five weeks), NFL schedule makers kept NBC in mind in regards to the Cowboys’ rivalry with the Eagles. With the exception of the 2008 season, at least one Cowboys/Eagles game was scheduled on NBC (in 2009, they lucked out and got two, including a playoff game in Dallas).

So it’s no surprise that NBC decided to stand pat with the Cowboys/Eagles contest scheduled on the network this year. Said Fred Gaudelli: “We think it’s still one of the best rivalries in the NFL.”

Mind you, both teams come into this game with sub-.500 records – including a streak of seven losses and counting for the Eagles.

“People associate them with winning,” Gaudelli said. “And unfortunately for them, the wheels have kinda fallen off the wagon this year.”

He thinks that a combination of the turmoil surrounding the Eagles, especially their lame duck head coach Andy Reid – who’s about five more losses away from being a gold lamé head coach – and the aforementioned “drama” that always follows the Cowboys makes for “a matchup that people would want to see… in a different kind of way.”

Despite there being a few games between teams with records above .500 (Bears/Seahawks, Packers/Vikings, Broncos/Buccaneers, as well as Ravens/Steelers, who were just on NBC’s air earlier this month) that might better pique viewers’ interest – and ironically, it was a Bears/Seahawks game in Week 11 of 2007 that was the first-ever game to be flexed out of primetime – NBC decided that a game between two teams with a combined total of eight wins would have “the most national interest, even though (it was) not for the reasons we would have thought… back in April.”

Granted, there are three games this weekend which pits teams that have a lower amount of combined wins against each other – but Oakland vs. Cleveland or Buffalo vs. Jacksonville just doesn’t have the same ring to it as Dallas vs. Philadelphia.

Of course, if on this week, NBC was scheduled to air, say, Dallas vs. Oakland, there’s a possibility it would have been played earlier in the day, as opposed to under the lights, and in primetime.

As Gaudelli explained, if the Cowboys were facing “a team with a lesser pedigree, we’d probably move out of the game, but we didn’t think there was good enough reason to [use flex scheduling].”

This isn’t the first time Gaudelli, approaching a quarter-century of producing NFL broadcasts, including “Monday Night Football,” as well as games on the previous home of Sunday night football, ESPN, has sung the praises of the “ratings punch” that the Cowboys can provide. “John Madden used to have a saying, ‘When in doubt, the Cowboys’,” he said in 2010. “I think that still holds true.”

This year, “Sunday Night Football” has consistently finished each week as one of the top-rated, if not the top-rated, shows watched. The Week 3 Patriots/Ravens game outranked the annual Emmy Awards broadcast, and the Week 8 telecast of a Saints/Broncos tilt got a better rating than the final game of this year’s World Series.

Now, this doesn’t necessarily prove that the NFL can plunk a Kansas City Chiefs/New York Jets game on Sunday night and expect ratings magic. But if NBC gets an equally sizable viewership for this week’s Cowboys/Eagles game, despite the fact that both teams may likely miss the playoffs, it’s a testament not just to both teams’ national fan bases (moreso the Cowboys) but to the network’s decision making when it comes to flex scheduling. It’s not to say that upper echelon teams are immune to flex scheduling: believe it or not, the New England Patriots have had the most games (three) flexed out of “SNF”, mostly due to the underperformance of the opponent over the course of the season (e.g. last year’s Patriots/Colts matchup, which really lacked its juice with Peyton Manning being inactive) – and one of those games were in 2008, the year Tom Brady missed virtually the entire season; so yes, this had a little to do with the Patriots, as well.

The Cowboys’ star running back, Demarco Murray, could return after missing several weeks; while they’ve seen many defensive players land on injured reserve. On the other side of the field, the Eagles – well, they’re a mess: Michael Vick and LeSean McCoy have been ruled out, and DeSean Jackson was just added to the “I.R.” this week.

Obviously, Nick Foles, Bryce Brown and Jason Avant aren’t household names.

And this Sunday night, they’ll all have mere walk-on roles in a brand-new episode of “Dallas” on NBC.

With Jerry Jones as J.R. Ewing.

Of course, it’s a little too late now to find out if J.R. Ewing the owner would fire J.R. Ewing the general manager.

Third Time's A Charm: Giants, Cowboys To Kickoff 2012 NFL Season, Play Third NBC Game In Nine Months

The NFL has announced that the Dallas Cowboys will square off against the New York Giants in the 2012 season "kickoff game" on Wednesday, September 5. This will be the third time in a row that these teams will be playing on NBC, and the third year in a row that the Cowboys will open their season on NBC.

A month ago, we told you that the 2012 NFL season would be kicking off on a Wednesday night. And, of course, it would involve the world champion New York Giants.

Now, we know who the first opponent in the Giants’ defense of their 2011-12 championship will be. It’s a familiar one. And it is a division rival.

But it won’t be the Washington Redskins, who opened their season with the Giants for the previous two seasons.

Instead, it’ll be the Dallas Cowboys. That’s right: for an unprecedented third time in a row, the Giants and Cowboys will be playing a regular season game on NBC. Their first regular season matchup of 2011 was not until Week 14, with their Week 17 contest flexed into “Sunday Night Football” given the “win and you’re in” factor of the game.

And now, these teams will be playing the first NFL game to be played on a Wednesday night in 64 years.

So it shall be the Giants opening the 2012 season against a team they swept last year (Cowboys), as opposed to the Redskins, who despite their 6-10 record, managed to win both games against the Giants in 2011.

No matter how much apathy you might exhibit at this decision (and there’s been quite a few on my own Twitter timeline after the announcement was first made), it was the right decision.

Considering the Redskins were players (albeit not favorites, but on the radar) in the Peyton Manning sweepstakes, had the former Colts quarterback headed to the Nation’s Capital, you can bet that it would be the Redskins, and not the Cowboys, opening the 2012 season, for the simple fact that it would be Peyton, barring a setback in his neck surgery recovery, against his little brother Eli, who has now won twice as many Super Bowls as his older brother. Of course, playing against his brother was a factor in Peyton choosing to stay in the AFC, and joining the Broncos.

And while Robert Griffin III, expected to be drafted by the Redskins, is as dynamic as the scouts say he is, he probably wouldn’t generate as much ratings gold as Tony Romo and company would deliver when they clash with the G-Men, as evidenced by their January 1 “playoffs or bust” showdown.

As for the Cowboys on NBC, the magic number is 3: Not only will this be the third consecutive time their game against the Giants will be shown on the Peacock Network, but it’s the third year in a row that the Cowboys have opened their season with a game on NBC. They hosted the Redskins on “Sunday Night Football” in Week 1 in 2010, and traveled to the Meadowlands to face the Jets in Week 1 last year. The Cowboys would lose both of those games.

And the odds don’t appear to be in the Cowboys’ favor for this year’s opener: The Super Bowl champion is a perfect 8-0 in the season “kickoff game” dating back to 2004. Throw in the Redskins’ win over the Jets in 2003, and you have nine years in a row that the home team won the “kickoff game.” (The lone road win was in 2002 by the 49ers; the team on the losing end of that one just happened to be the Giants.)

Also, as Inside Football’s Patricia Traina reminds us, the Giants have an astounding 5-1 record on games played on Wednesdays, including a perfect 2-0 in season openers played on “hump day.” (Note that these games were played way back in the mid-’20’s and early ’30’s.) This will be the first Wednesday game for the Giants in 78 years. (Efforting to get the last time, if at all, the Cowboys played a Wednesday game…)

The rest of the NFL schedule is slated to be released in the third week of April, possibly April 18 – though prior to, the league may share the matchups for certain games such as the trio to be played on Thanksgiving – the night game to be played for the first time on NBC.

But not before the first Wednesday NFL game since the merger is to be played on NBC.