For the third consecutive year, the most popular team in America's most popular sport will try to avoid elimination in the 256th and final game of the NFL regular season. And for the third consecutive year, that game will be televised nationally in prime time on NBC.
The NFL confirmed Sunday that the de facto NFC East title game between the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles at AT&T Stadium in Dallas would be flexed into the Sunday Night Football slot, which came as no surprise after the Cowboys beat the Washington Redskins to ensure that their fate would be determined in Week 17.
In the exact same situation in 2011, the Cowboys lost to the Giants. And again in 2012, they were beaten by the Redskins. Now, they draw the Eagles. If they lose again, they'll finish 8-8 for the third straight year, head coach Jason Garrett and his staff could be done, and Tony Romo's legacy will take another hit.
If they win — and this game is at least at home, which is something we couldn't say the last two years — the team everyone in America either loves or loves to hate will have finally removed a rabid monkey from its back.
It's a dreamy scenario for the league and NBC, who didn't even wait to see if the Bears would lose Sunday night, turning next week's Chicago-Green Bay game into another early playoff game. While the Bears and Packers have massive fan bases, the league and NBC would have been crazy to place anyone except Dallas and Philly in the Sunday night slot. As we've discussed before, the NFC East delivers primetime ratings for the league, which is why they're usually the first place the NFL turns for these high profile flex slots.
The league also announced that Buffalo-New England and Tampa Bay-New Orleans have been flexed into late-afternoon time slots on CBS and Fox, respectively. The Patriots and Saints are jockeying for position in their respective conferences. St. Louis-Seattle remains at 4:25 p.m. ET. The Seahawks might have to win that game to lock up the No. 1 spot in the NFC. Here's the full Week 17 schedule.