As you take a breath following a riveting regular-season finale between the Packers and Vikings and wait for what necessarily will be the first game of the 2012 postseason, take a look at this item from Judy Battista of the New York Times regarding the manner in which the NFL planned the final course of a 17-week meal.
The seeds were planted several years ago, when the NFL decided to go with intra-division games for the last week of the season. More recently, the NFL began to pay attention to the scheduling of the games played on the final Sunday of the season.
That Cowboys-Redskins game, with the winner capturing the NFC East and the loser heading home, nearly couldn’t have happened because the NFL and NBC considered placing the Week 16 game between the Saints and Cowboys on NBC. Doing so would have maxed out the Cowboys’ national-TV allotment for the year, preventing the Cowboys from appearing in prime time in Week 17.
In all, 10 of the 16 games from the final week of the season had playoff implications, and the NFL deliberately selected games like the Packers and Vikings for a 4:25 p.m. ET kickoff and not for prime time because there’s no guarantee that the outcome would have changed playoff scenarios. The Packers could have sewn up the No. 2 seed before 8:30 p.m. ET, and the Vikings could have nailed down a playoff berth before playing their final game of the year.
And so the NFL chose to go with Cowboys-Redskins, even though FOX didn’t want to give up that game.
“FOX wasn’t thrilled, but we have constant dialogue with them,” Howard Katz, NFL senior V.P. of broadcasting and media operations told Battista. “They let us know they’d like to keep the Dallas game if at all possible. It could have been Green Bay going for the 1 seed, Minnesota having to win to get the 6 seed and Adrian Peterson going for the rushing record. But in the end, there were things that could have negated it all. We had to go with the sure thing.”
The only sure thing was Cowboys at Redskins, which became even more of a sure thing once the Bears won, preventing the Redskins from backing in to the postseason with a loss.
The message is that, while the Week 17 slate already featured plenty of compelling games with playoff implications, the NFL specifically configured the day to maximize the drama inherent to the effort both to qualify for the playoffs and to capture the highest possible seed.
For Sunday night, the drama will be high. Cowboys vs. Redskins, in the biggest installment of the rivalry since they squared off in the 1982 NFC title game.