Krieger on how flexing the Jets game could hurt us; all about money
Krieger: $$$ talks, integrity walks
By Dave Krieger
Denver Post Columnist
Posted: 12/30/2009 01:00:00 AM MST
You know the Ol' Blue Eyes line about New York: If you can make it there, you'll make it anywhere. In the NFL, that's not quite how it works.
Last weekend, as the Jets were about to be flogged into next season, the Colts suddenly threw in the towel while leading late in the third quarter.
This weekend, the NFL obligingly moved the Jets game into prime time, creating the possibility their opponent will have nothing to play for.
All of this impacts the Broncos because the Jets leapfrogged them in the wild-card race with Indy's virtual forfeit and could knock them out — depending on events earlier in the day — with a win Sunday night.
Don't get me wrong — I am not arguing that the Broncos deserve to make the postseason. They don't. They've lost seven of their past nine games. That's not backing in, that's falling in.
Still, the NFL's flex-scheduling decision is discouraging if you think competitive integrity should matter more than TV ratings.
Moving the Bengals-Jets game back seven hours from its original start time could change Cincinnati's approach to the game. The Bengals still have a chance at the AFC's No. 3 playoff seed, but only if New England loses at Houston. Had the Bengals played the Jets at 1 p.m. Eastern as scheduled, they would not have known the outcome of the Patriots-Texans game and would have had the possible No. 3 seed as motivation.
This is more incentive than you might think because lower seeds get a surprising number of home playoff games after top seeds lose in the divisional round. The fourth-seeded Cardinals hosted the NFC championship game last season when the other survivor turned out to be the wild-card Eagles. The 2005 Broncos, seeded second, hosted the AFC championship after the top-seeded Colts lost in the divisional round.
By Sunday night, Cincinnati will know the outcome of the New England-Houston game. If New England wins, the Bengals will have nothing to play for against the Jets and no reason to put their starters at risk.
"The primary consideration in putting the Bengals-Jets on Sunday night was that it is the only guaranteed 'win and you're in' game," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said. "If the Jets win, they are in the playoffs. If not, another team makes it. Another factor is that the Bengals are a division champion and have not been seen in prime time this year."
When I asked Aiello if the league had any concerns about competitive integrity, he replied:
"No. The key is that it is a 'win you're in; lose you're out' game. We had the same scenario last year with San Diego-Denver in the final Sunday night game."
Talk about your low blows. You might recall the Broncos-Chargers finale was moved to Sunday night because it turned out to be for the AFC West title. The Chargers won, 52-21, completing the Broncos' historic collapse — they led the division by three games with three to play — and spelling the end of Mike Shanahan's run at Dove Valley.
But that decision didn't compromise the competitive landscape because the early games had no effect on the late one. In this case, a late game could have a very different meaning for the Bengals than an early one.
Granted, the NFL is in the entertainment business, and the drama of a make-or-break game for a team in its biggest market is an appealing prime-time show, not to mention the commercial appeal of the Jets actually getting in. But the backbone of the league's entertainment value is the belief among its fans that the competition is legitimate. By moving the Bengals-Jets game to 8 p.m., the league said competitive integrity comes second to TV ratings.
The best outcome for Denver would be a Houston victory over New England, which would provide Cincinnati with incentive and give the Broncos a good chance to fall into the postseason for other reasons, assuming, again, that they take care of the Chiefs. In fact, oddsmakers have made both the Texans and Jets early favorites over their playoff-bound opponents, apparently on the theory that they will have more at stake.
The NFL should have opted for Cowboys-Eagles on Sunday night. It won't have the make-or-break appeal of Bengals-Jets, but it's for the NFC East title and attractive enough to have been moved into Fox's late-afternoon showcase slot.
Bottom line, competitive integrity wasn't even an issue in the decision. It was all about the dead presidents. That may be no surprise these days, but it's still regrettable.
It is bad enough when teams that have no motivation tank games, but one could argue they have earned that right and we put ourselves in the position we are in. But, Krieger makes a good point regarding the subsequent flexing of a game with playoff implications for other teams. The integrity of the game has really taken a hit the last couple weeks.
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