During Week 17 of every NFL season, the Sunday Night Football matchup isn’t determined until sometime during Week 16 so that the NFL and NBC can get a game with the most playoff implications in the primetime spot (as opposed to a meaningless turd-burger, like say, Redskins-Giants in Week 17 this year).
This year, the possibilities for the Week 17 SNF game aren’t great. There are only four games pitting teams at .500 or better against one another (and one of those could have much less meaning after Week 16, considering the 7-7 Packers are clinging to their playoff life and the 8-6 Lions are currently on the outside looking in).
Eagles-Cowboys would normally be a mortal lock for a Sunday night slot…but the Eagles can wrap up the NFC’s top seed in Week 16 with a win over the Raiders, and the Cowboys are also currently out of the NFC playoff picture and need plenty of results to go their way over the next two weeks to sneak in.
That brings the possibilities down to a pair of games. One of them is a pretty sexy looking Panthers-Falcons matchup. The NFC South title could be on the line in Week 17 if the Falcons beat the Bucs on Monday Night Football this evening, and if they upset the Saints in Week 16. But if the Falcons lose one of those two games prior to the Panthers matchup, the game will lose some of its luster.
And then, there’s the fourth matchup that’s probably attractive to the league, and it’s a matchup that I don’t think NBC had on their radar at the beginning of the season. The Jacksonville Jaguars will travel to Nashville to take on the Tennessee Titans, and both teams could have plenty to play for. The Jags have already clinched a playoff spot, and currently hold the #3 seed in the AFC. The Titans are currently the #5 seed in the AFC, and have already beaten the Jaguars earlier this season. So it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Titans could be playing for the division crown in Week 17 – they just need to beat the Rams (which is a daunting matchup for anyone in the NFL right now) and hope the 49ers (who beat the Titans this past Sunday) upset the Jaguars.
Jacksonville could also fighting for a first-round bye in the AFC, which is a thought that seemed inconceivable months ago. Back in Week 5, the Jaguars mauled the Steelers 30-9, meaning they have the tiebreaker over Pittsburgh. If the Steelers somehow lose to either the Texans or the Browns in the season’s final two weeks, and the Jags beat both the 49ers and Titans, Jacksonville will clinch a bye.
Of course, it’s not a lock that Jaguars-Titans will be the pick. The Bills and Ravens could win in Week 16 and the Titans could lose, bumping them out of the AFC playoff picture. The potential NFC South doomsday scenario could come together, making that Panthers-Falcons matchup so much more tantalizing. Hell, the Packers could upset the Vikings next Saturday and other results could keep their playoff hopes alive until the season’s final week.
No matter what happens, expect to see the Jaguars and Titans on Sunday night next season, given their strong play this year. Jacksonville has only appeared on SNF on NBC twice, both games against the Steelers in 2007 and 2008. The Titans have appeared three times, once in 2007 (against the Colts) and twice in 2009 (against the Colts and Steelers).
It’s incredible that two teams that don’t get featured on a national stage very often are in the running for a Week 17 Sunday Night Football flex. Now, just watch the NFL take the easy way out and go with Eagles-Cowboys.