The Patriots are no strangers to seeing their games flexed, including out of primetime slots.
In fact, there are five recent examples of New England games being flexed out of the “Sunday Night Football” broadcast.
In each of those instances, the change was made largely due to the Patriots’ opponent being some combination of bad and/or uninteresting. New England also has been flexed into more attractive time slots due to their opponents exceeding expectations. Games against the Buffalo Bills in 2007 and in 2019 come to mind.
But what the NFL announced Monday afternoon was something much different.
The league decided to move the Week 15 game between the Patriots and the Raiders in Las Vegas out of the “Sunday Night Football” and back to 4:05 p.m. ET. NBC instead will air a suddenly pivotal matchup between the New York Giants and the Washington Commanders.
The once highly anticipated showdown between Bill Belichick and his longtime protégé, Josh McDaniels, no longer will be viewed by a national TV audience in a primetime slot.
The move wasn’t made just because Vegas, despite winning its last three games, is 5-7 and among the AFC’s more disappointing teams. This wasn’t done because the Raiders stink.
It was done because the Patriots stink, too.
Even worse, it was done because neither the Patriots nor the Raiders are interesting, and the NFL didn’t believe hyping up the Belichick-McDaniels duel would close the gap.
Think about that. The NFL is confident that more people will want to watch a Week 15 game between the Giants and Commanders, who played to a tie on Sunday.
Brian Daboll vs. Ron Rivera is a more desirable matchup. Daniel Jones vs. Taylor Heinicke could produce a better product than Mac Jones and Derek Carr.
The scariest part: The NFL is justified in feeling that way.
The 6-6 Patriots are boring, and so are the Raiders. At least the Raiders have Davante Adams and Josh Jacobs to keep fantasy football players engaged. New England has Rhamondre Stevenson, who’s playing behind a wretched offensive line, and a defense that puts up numbers only when it plays crappy offenses.
Tom Brady isn’t walking through that door. (Not yet, anyway.)
What would make people outside New England, Las Vegas and Oakland want to watch the Patriots play the Raiders? What would compel other NFL fans to set aside three hours on their Sundays to watch that game?
The answer is “nothing.”
And that’s a shame, as Belichick vs. McDaniels should’ve been a blockbuster event. It should’ve been one of the marquee events of the NFL schedule.
Instead, it’ll be just another afternoon game featuring a pair of middling franchises.