Football is a game where all spectators want to enjoy the most entertaining product on the field possible given the stakes and level of competition.
Every Sunday, the NFL has several significant games and usually three or four candidates that earn the right to be flexed into the Sunday Night Football game on NBC. Originally, the Baltimore Ravens were set to face the New England Patriots at home on Dec. 22 on NBC’s prime time stage. Now, the game has been moved to a 4:25 p.m. ET start, which is still essentially a prime time late afternoon contest, so the Philadelphia Eagles can take on the Chicago Bears on the big stage and play under the Sunday night lights with an 8:30 p.m. ET kickoff.
Both of these games are quality contests and will be competitive given the stakes. New England finds themselves with the No. 2 spot in the AFC playoff picture as they have virtually locked up the AFC East divisional crown. They are competing with the Denver Broncos in trying to grab the coveted No. 1 seed, but will need some help to obtain that reward.
Baltimore controls their own destiny as they’ve won three in a row to improve their record to 7-6 as they hold the final playoff spot tiebreaker over the Miami Dolphins due to a head-to-head victory in Week 5. Chicago will likely need to win the NFC North where they are tied for first, but are out of the playoffs currently as the Detroit Lions would represent the NFC North as of now in the postseason.
Philadelphia just played in one of the more entertaining snow-filled games in recent memory as they are 8-5 and sit atop the NFC East division and hold the No. 3 seed in the NFC.
The NFL had a tough decision when looking at these two games. They could have gone with a game that they had on Sunday night last season which produced a lot of controversy — Baltimore kicker Justin Tucker‘s game-winning field goal was ever-so-close to being missed as New England head coach Bill Belichick confronted and shoves an official after the game — and “the loudest manure chant I’ve ever heard,” according to NBC’s play-by-play commentator Al Michaels.
New England and Baltimore were already penciled in and given that this would be yet another chapter in what has become a somewhat downplayed rivalry between two of the best organizations in football, the league officials had to know they would hurt somebody’s feelings if they made the tough decision to pull another epic Joe Flacco–Tom Brady showdown. This game would also feature a rematch of the last two AFC Championship contests.
However, it was swapped out for Bears-Eagles, and while Ravens fans can say it’s a sign of league disrespect towards Baltimore, it simply isn’t the case. The mystique of Nick Foles–Josh McCown is nowhere near the pull of Flacco-Brady, but Flacco-Brady isn’t Peyton Manning-Brady.
The star power of this Ravens-Patriots game has been toned down significantly. Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Vince Wolfork and Jerod Mayo will not be participating in this game for a myriad of reasons. The stakes are high for the Ravens, but the Patriots don’t have the added pressure of winning out in order to clinch a playoff berth as their division has struggled to provide a serious challenger once again.
With the Patriots essentially playing for positioning and the Eagles and Bears playing for positioning and a right to get in the playoffs, that game was deemed more attractive.
Even though the Ravens just completed one of the greatest finishes in NFL history in their game versus the Minnesota Vikings in Week 14, most could have fallen asleep during the first 57:53 and not missed much. Plus, this could help both teams going forward.
The 1:00 p.m. ET kickoff routines of the players, coaches and staff members only get bumped three hours ahead of schedule as opposed to seven with the Sunday night contests. Teams will be able to watch film, get some rest and go to bed at a more reasonable hour with the 4:25 p.m. kickoff. There are more football pros to playing earlier than cons.