When the prime time football schedule was released months ago, it was easy to expect not to see the Bengals a part of it. With the season they had last year, why should NBC, ESPN and the NFL Network reward a team with only 4 wins by putting them on the schedule? Oh, wait; the Browns got 2 games on prime time this year with just 4 wins from last season. Oh, well. I wonder if ESPN and the NFL Network wish they could flex their schedule.
This season has been far different from last season. The Bengals have already won more games this season, which is not yet half over, then they did all of last year. Plus, those wins put them in the middle of the AFC North Division title race with the defending Super Bowl Chumps, I mean Champs Pittsburgh Steelers. The majority of those wins have had the kind of ending the networks love; close, hotly contested with a last minute scoring drive to win the game. This was all unexpected from a team that was unable to score points or keep the opposition from doing so.
When NBC re-signed with the NFL to show Sunday night prime time games, they agreed to do a flex schedule starting week 11 to provide the best possible match-up for primetime including those with playoff implication. With the Bengals playing at such a high level and playoff aspirations in hand, could one or more of their late season games get moved to primetime?
Of course that will depend on how they do over the next two games against divisional rivals Baltimore Ravens and the Steelers. If they do in fact do what is considered by many to be impossible, and the Bengals sweep them both, it will be a given that at least one game will get moved to primetime regardless what they do against the dysfunctional Cleveland Browns, Oakland Raiders and Detroit Lions. All three of these games should be considered winnable. But so was the Houston Texans and we know what happened there.
So now, if things go well and the Bengals don't do a sudden swan dive which has been a part of the franchises modes operandi, a game could be moved to primetime. But which game is most likely to be changed?
The first game that comes to mind is in week 14 against the Brett Farve lead Minnesota Vikings. Everybody, okay, the media, loves what Brett has been doing since un-retiring to play for the Vikings. He has defeated his old team, the Green Bay Packers twice and has the Twin Cities thinking Super Bowl with a current record of 7-1. With a favorable schedule as three of the next four games are at home and the only road game against the Arizona Cardinals, the Vikings could be coming into this game with a possible record of 10-2 or 11-1. If the Bengals do as expected, they could be coming into this game with a record of 9-3 or better at 10-2 making this game very attractive to NBC.
The next possible game that could be flexed is the following week against the San Diego Chargers in San Diego. But the problem with this team is they are not meeting expectations. Many prognosticators had the Chargers landing in the Super Bowl due to their high powered offense and supposed tough defense. Currently at 4-3, they have had a number of games that left you wondering just how good they are. The schedule leading up to the game is not easy as they face the powers of the NFC East and the Broncos. The other part of the equation is the Chargers head coach Norv Turner, who has more pedigree as an offensive coordinator then as a head coach. His teams have a reputation of not living up to the hype or falling over their feet after a good start and missing the playoffs. Unless this team is an aberration, they could be coming into this game with a record at best of 6-7 pending an upset or two against some tough foes.
Week 17 of the schedule is left wide open for NBC to choose the best possible matchup that will have direct impact on the playoffs. That is when the Bengals take a trip to New York against the J-E-T-S Jets, Jets, Jets! This game initially looked good on paper after the first 3 weeks of the season as the Jets start 3-0. Now the Jets have fallen once again into a rut which he team is known for, that could leave them out of the playoffs again making this game less appealing. Rex Ryan came over from Baltimore to improve a team that Eric Mangini had left in a bit of a mess. With the drafting of Mark Sanchez and the fast start, Ryan looked like a genius. Now they have lost 4 of the last 5 with a schedule that does not look favorable as they have games against the Patriots in New England, the Falcons at home and travel to Indy to face the Colts. Games against Carolina, Jacksonville and the Buffalo Bills could go either way as no one really knows which team will show up. The game against the Buccaneers in Tampa Bay should be the most winnable game on the remaining schedule, but knowing the Jets, should not be taken lightly.
There will be a number of factors that go into NBC's selection for their impending flex schedule. They will take into consideration what game most people will want to watch along with how much of an impact it will have on the standings heading into the playoffs. If the Chargers and Jets get things together for a late season run, those games could play into the decision for their respective weeks. But if they fail to prove their worth, expect the game against the Vikings to be the only game selected for the flex schedule and the Bengals token appearance on prime time.