Something new that was implemented in the NFL’s schedule over the last few years was the addition of a flexible schedule during later weeks in the season. Essentially, five games would be played on either Saturday or Sunday and later in the season after the college football regular season is over, a determination would be made on which two of those five would be nationally televised on Saturday. It allows the NFL and networks to choose sexy matchups to feature instead of being stuck with late-season duds.
This year, the flex is happening in Week 15 and for the second straight year Buffalo has that opportunity. Last year, Buffalo did indeed make it to national TV on Saturday, playing the Denver Broncos in the late afternoon slot on December 19th. It was a shellacking, with Buffalo winning 48-19 and clinching the AFC East title in the process.
This year’s games feature more playoff teams from a year ago and multiple divisional matchups, which makes it even more intriguing trying to determine which games will be featured.
Here is our power ranking of the games in May of 2021 before a single snap has been played. They are ranked in order of most likely to be flexed.
1. Washington Football Team at Philadelphia Eagles
Two large markets and two teams that have historically garnered the national spotlight. Maybe the matchup isn’t the sexiest in 2021, but it’s bound to have some implications in the NFC East race. It’s my top pick and it’s not close.
2. New England Patriots at Indianapolis Colts
The Patriots are getting a ton of love in the TV schedule even without being very good. The Indianapolis Colts are a small-market team and not a great ratings draw, but could be in first place in the AFC South when the decision is made. Meanwhile, the Patriots probably have their rookie QB starting by this point and/or are in the AFC East race.
3. New York Jets at Miami Dolphins
A huge market in New York makes this game more noteworthy than it ought to be, but they also have a rookie QB who could be figuring things out by Week 15. The Dolphins and their young QB could also be enticing and if they are in the AFC East race, even more so.
4. Las Vegas Raiders at Cleveland Browns
The Browns are super-hyped this year and for good reason. They had a nice season in 2020, breaking their long playoff drought despite not having their top wide receiver. They’ll likely be in the hunt in the AFC North and potentially the AFC in general, while the Raiders had a solid year to potentially build on a season ago. If they had bigger TV markets, this would be a sexier matchup.
5. Carolina Panthers at Buffalo Bills
The Bills aren’t in a large market, but they are a huge ratings draw. They will likely be in the thick of the AFC Playoff Race, too. It’s also likely the Panthers aren’t in the NFC South Race and will be not good, which lowers the stock of this game. Carolina is not a great TV market, either, so I think this game ends up on Sunday at 1:00 PM, and that’s fine by me.
Last year, my predictions stunk, but that’s only because so did the Houston Texans and New York Jets. With both of them near the bottom of the league, the NFL did not put their games on Saturday, and instead opted for only two Saturday games. The Panthers lost a close game to the Green Bay Packers in the other contest.