No one could have predicted the 2017 season we’ve watched so far—the brutal injuries, the rising stars, the New York Giants—and that includes the NFL’s schedule-makers. But that’s why flex scheduling exists, allowing the league and NBC to swap a new matchup into Sunday Night Football when need be. On Tuesday though, the parties decided to keep the preseason pick for Week 12 (the week following this weekend, when the Eagles and Cowboys face off), sticking with Packers-Steelers despite the lack of Aaron Rodgers, instead of options including a mammoth battle between the 7-2 Rams and 7-2 Saints. Los Angeles-New Orleans did move into CBS’s late afternoon marquee position, but the decision still spoke to the stakeholders’ priorities.
Ratings feel more important for the NFL than ever before, with slipping numbers being watched closely both on Wall Street and in the White House. That’s put an ever bigger spotlight on programming decisions, and this year, the choice is stark. In the NFC, all four current division leaders—the Rams, Saints, Vikings, and Eagles—finished third or last in their divisions a year ago, and Drew Brees is the only superstar QB among the bunch. So, needing to lure viewers, will the league and broadcasters cling to pre-scheduled brand-name franchises (like Pittsburgh, Dallas, and Baltimore), or will they try to pitch America on the upstarts? It’s important to keep in mind there are complicated corporate politics being played and complex rules affecting these decisions, but regardless, it’s a trend to watch.
On the league’s website, flexible scheduling is hailed as a way to give “surprise teams a chance to play their way onto primetime” and no teams are more surprising than the Saints and Rams. New Orleans will likely play in the same late afternoon spotlight when it faces Carolina Dec. 3. L.A. could still earn a night game when it takes on the high-flying Eagles Dec. 10 in a battle of the NFL’s top two scoring units. In the AFC, the Jaguars have a case to make that same week when they host the Seahawks, though Philadelphia is set to play Seattle the previous Sunday night, complicating matters. But let’s not get lost in the details here. No matter the combination, I’m ready for some new faces in primetime.
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1. Roger Goodell gets the Sally Jenkins treatment, again. This time, The Washington Post columnist is focusing on his request for a $49.5 million salary. In questioning the figure, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones “is no different from any other upset major shareholder,” Jenkins writes. The number looks particularly absurd when cast in a historical light. Promoter extraordinaire Pete Rozelle earned about one million 2017 dollars when he was commissioner in the 1970s. Goodell’s predecessor, Paul Tagliabue, was paid $10 million. Ultimately, Jenkins says, “Sensible corporate leaders understand that when CEO pay gets too high, it impacts operations and morale, distorts judgment, and actually undermines leadership. They understand that it breeds suspicion of poor or careless governance. This is Jones’s concern, and it should be shared by every owner in the league.”
2. As Martellus Bennett tells it, he fully intended to get surgery and retire after the Packers waived him. Then the Patriots claimed him, Bill Belichick spoke to him, and Sunday night, he was on the field for New England. The series of events has raised eyebrows around the league, but an NFL spokesman announced that HQ has no issues with how things went down.
3. According to Panthers coach Ron Rivera, running back Jonathan Stewart took the criticism following his two-fumble performance against the Falcons personally. “He came back and you could see it on his face,” Rivera said after Stewart put together his first 100-yard game of the season, quieting doubts about his effectiveness. “There was a little bit of resolve.” Some bad Carolina news, though: Rookie playmaker Curtis Samuel is out for the year with an ankle injury.
4. With the Packers facing more injuries, another running back has emerged. This time it’s rookie Jamaal Williams.
5. Talk of another Super Bowl for the Saints has drowned out what had been a low murmur about the coming end of the Sean Payton–Drew Brees era in New Orleans. Now, Brees says, “I don’t plan on leaving New Orleans ever.” But, he added his contract situation would not be fully addressed until the offseason.
6. With the 49ers entering a bye week, now seems like the perfect time to install Jimmy Garoppolo at starting quarterback. Not so fast, says Kyle Shanahan. Elsewhere in San Francisco, Marquise Goodwin talked more about his Sunday, explaining that his wife told him to play hours after they lost their child to pregnancy complications.
7. Look for Jay Ajayi to have a larger role for the Eagles when Philadelphia takes on the Cowboys on Sunday night. “He’s able to handle everything that we give him at this point,” Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich said.
8. With controversy brewing around the NFL’s in-game concussion protocol, the Indianapolis Star provides a helpful, simple look at what actually goes on inside the new sideline tents. The test includes asking, “Did we win the last game?” Meanwhile, the Seahawks are meeting with NFL officials today about how they handled Russell Wilson following a hard hit last Thursday.
9. For The Ringer, Kevin Clark ranks the league’s most exciting RedZone teams. The fact that the Jaguars are No. 2 tells you everything you need to know about the 2017 NFL.
10. In his quest to end what is now a five-game losing streak, Broncos coach Vance Joseph is going to try simplified game plans and focusing on the details.
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