The NFL’s new flex rules are helpless against this season’s national TV slate

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There are so many more interesting teams than the New York Jets and Giants, Denver Broncos, and Chicago Bears, but from now through Thanksgiving, NFL fans will be subjected to those franchises 13 times on national TV. It’s early, and there’s still time to course correct, yet after just two weeks, those four teams are a combined 2-6 with a minus-82 point differential.

The season might already be over for these two

Justin Fields is already (rightfully) blaming inept coaches for his robotic play, Aaron Rodgers is out for the season, Saquon Barkley has a bum ankle, and Denver is still finding ways to lose despite new coach Sean Payton. The Giants-49ers game tonight could foreshadow many more public shamings for this quartet.

New York already got dusted by an above average Dallas team on national TV, and I’d say it’s better to get it out of the way now if the G-Men were relegated to Sunday Ticket after tonight. They’re not, and viewers will assuredly go on tilt during future drubbings.

I mentioned Thanksgiving because, under the league’s new flex schedule where it can now swap out Thursday and Monday games, those nights can’t be switched until Week 12 or 13. Turkey Day is Week 12, and only Sunday night action is up for realignment prior to then. Even with that, a maximum of two matchups between Weeks 5 and 10 can be flexed into Sunday night. (After that, SNF is subject to the NFL’s discretion.)

So for all of the league’s trumpeting about a more fluid national slate, it’s more or less bupkis, and we’re going to get a lot of incredulousness from Al Michaels, and Kirk Herbstreit, hyperbole from Mike Tirico, and Cris Collinsworth, and existential doubt from Joe Buck, and Troy Aikman. As much as I love those booths calling it like it is, or trying to spin a Zach Wilson pass into something more, that’s not entertaining enough to hold fans’ attention for three-plus hours.

I’m going to need Cris and his son Jack armwrestling during two-minute warnings to stay tuned, and though everyone knows why Chicago, New York, and Denver got the times slots they did, it doesn’t mean we can’t rage against the schedule makers over at the league office for continuing to prioritize big markets over quality and competent organizations.

Only one of those four squads finished above .500 a year ago, and they’re helmed by Daniel Jones. Broadcast partners were always going to fawn over Rodgers going to New York, but there should’ve been at least a slight hedge because the Jets don’t know anything but pain and sadness.

Speaking of pain, what’s up with the late-season flex rules? Most rosters have guys playing hurt long before November, but now they could get impromptu short weeks because prime-time games are popularity contests? Fans should get blitzed with prized poodles for the first month, and then after that, parade out the perennial contenders, and tried-and-true quarterbacks (under the age of 35).

At the risk of tying this argument in circles, there are three national TV slots per week now, and the league has to fill them with somebody. As anyone who’s ever watched their manager stress about who’s working Saturdays can attest, making any schedule is a huge headache, and there aren’t three obvious games per week to appease ESPN, NBC, and Amazon Prime.

That said, this is the NFL’s own doing as it chose to make Thursday Night Football a thing regardless of the shoddy product and truncated turnaround time. Barkley was never going to play tonight, but given three more days, maybe he could give it a go?

Bitching about the schedule (and the NFL) has become every bit the pastime as the games themselves. It doesn’t have to be this way, but asking why the league is the way that it is will only make your brain bleed.

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