The NFL’s schedule makers really thought the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys provide viewers with good football and great theater. It’s the reason why these two NFC East division rivals opened their 2017 campaigns with a nationally televised Sunday Night Football telecast for the second year in a row.
The season opener was played at AT&T Stadium, a 19-3 Cowboys win. They face off again Sunday afternoon at MetLife Stadium. This time around, the NFL’s schedule makers aren’t as confident that fans are clamoring to see the 112th edition of Giants Vs. Cowboys.
The NFL announced Tuesday that Fox moved the game out of its 4:25 PM ET national slot (billed as America’s Game of the Week) to a 1:00 PM ET start. This will be the first time the Giants and Cowboys play in a December game starting at 1:00 PM ET since Dec. 4, 2005, a 17-10 victory at Giants Stadium.
The Giants and Cowboys headed into this season expecting to compete for the division crown and a deep playoff run. The Cowboys, behind the strength of quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott, went 13-3 last season and won the NFC East for the second time in three years.
Two of the Cowboys’ losses in 2016 were at the hands of the Giants: 20-19 to open the season at AT&T Stadium and 10-7 on a snowy night at MetLife Stadium. The Giants were one of the surprise teams last season with an 11-5 record and their first playoff appearance since winning Super Bowl XLVI.
The teams that many believed would be in competition for the division crown have fallen upon hard times.
The Giants are in the midst of a snake-bitten 2-10 season. They have more players on injury reserve than any other team. They fired their head coach and general manager just five days ago. The Giants were officially eliminated from postseason contention at the conclusion of Week 12’s Sunday games.
Dallas, at 6-6, is also performing below expectations. Elliott began serving a six-game suspension Week 10. The Cowboys have gone 1-3 in the games that Elliott has missed. They are still in contention for a playoff spot but will need to win all of their remaining games as well as have some help in order to make the playoffs.
The NFL has used flexible (or flex) scheduling since 2006. It is applied during the final seven weeks of the season as there are teams who are eliminated or pretty close to being eliminated from postseason contention at that time. Flex scheduling ensures that a nationally televised late season game will have playoff significance, regardless of if one, both, or neither team is competing for a spot.
For example, the Giants/Cowboys 2011 regular season finale was flexed to the Sunday Night Football slot because both teams were in contention for the NFC East title. The Giants won that game 31-14.
Flex scheduling also allows teams that do unexpectedly well to play in a nationally televised game. The only games that are exempt from flex scheduling are Thanksgiving games, games that air on cable channels (nationally televised Monday, Thursday, and Saturday night games), and games during Christmas weekend when Christmas falls on a Sunday.