It would appear the Vikings are getting caught in the middle of the geopolitics that take place within the multi-billion-dollar network coverage of the NFL. The NFL has a favored nation status with NBC that allows late-season games to be “flexed” – moving more intriguing matchups from the Sunday afternoon slate into prime time.
There has already been some discussion as to whether the Vikings can keep pace with the Green Bay Packers that potentially the Week 17 matchup between the teams could be the game moved into prime time. But it would appear that Minnesota and Green Bay has already become a piece on the NFL chessboard.
The NFL announced Monday that the scheduled Sunday night game for Nov. 22 between San Diego and Kansas City had been flexed out and replaced by the Arizona-Cincinnati matchup as the Sunday night game. As is the case with such games, there needs to be a bit of juggling to make the schedule work. As such, the Vikings and Packers game at TCF Bank Stadium has been shifted from a scheduled noon start time to 3:25 p.m. Central.
There has been some speculation that FOX used one of its protected-game chips to prevent the Vikings and Packers from being flexed into the prime-time slot. The game will still be carried on FOX, but it will be subject to a larger national audience since the only other FOX game scheduled for the late start time Nov. 22 will be San Francisco at Seattle.
Under the flex-schedule format, teams that are in the thick of the playoff hunt are switched to give those games a larger national audience. Since the Chargers and Chiefs appear to be teams that won’t be playoff-bound, the movement of them out of the prime-time Sunday night spot makes sense. Replacing them with the Bengals and Cardinals, two teams currently in first place in their divisions with a combined two losses, makes sense.
The move of the Vikings-Packers game also makes sense because of the playoff potential that the game has. There is also logical reason to believe that, if the Vikings continue to play at the level they’re playing, the Week 17 game at Lambeau Field could end up being in prime time.
The NFL doesn’t designate a Sunday night game for Week 17, leaving the door open for the most attractive matchup. All 16 games in the final week are divisional matchups, guaranteeing that there will be something on the line for at least one of those games, whether it’s a winner-take-all game for a division title or a chance for a team to knock another out of a playoff spot with a loss. Even if Green Bay can maintain its lead in the NFC North, the Week 17 Vikings-Packers game could have implications if it potentially means a first-round bye for Green Bay and whether or not the Vikings make the playoffs as a wild card or, better yet for Vikings fans, the last regular season game of the year will determine who wins the NFC North.
Between now and Week 11, the Vikings will play St. Louis and Oakland, while the Packers will play at Carolina Sunday before coming back to Lambeau Nov. 15 to play Detroit.
While the timing of the Nov. 22 game doesn’t have a huge impact on anyone other than those who have tickets for the game, the flexing of the Vikings-Packers game – and the apparent reservation call by FOX not to allow the game to be flexed off of its air and into prime time – is a sign that the league and its network affiliates are buying into the fact that the 2015 Vikings are a legitimate playoff contender at 5-2.
This time around, FOX was able to keep the game on its air and not to rival NBC. Six weeks later, the same may not be the case. If the Vikings can keep pace with Green Bay, a time change for their second meeting getting moved is a distinct possibility because the NFL knows a good thing when it sees it and, as of now, it’s viewing the Vikings as a good thing.