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The 5 O’Clock Club: The NFL is tinkering with the TV delivery of games

It’s 5 o’clock somewhere…

NFL: Super Bowl LVII-Winning Team Head Coach and MVP Press Conference Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The 5 o’clock club is published from time to time during the season, and aims to provide a forum for reader-driven discussion at a time of day when there isn’t much NFL news being published. Feel free to introduce topics that interest you in the comments below.

The NFL schedule release on Thursday night had few surprises, but with a little time to absorb the 272-game schedule, we can begin to see the types of macro-level changes on the way.

Black Friday

One is the “Black Friday” game, which pits the Dolphins at the Jets in an AFC East matchup.

Prime Time changes

Another change is that, unlike previous seasons, not every team was guaranteed a prime-time game in 2023, as the league tries to beef up the quality of the games that the networks and other media platforms are paying for. The four teams that ended up without any prime time games are the Cardinals, Falcons, Colts and Trexans — an indication that the schedule makers don’t expect them to be playing a lot of high-quality football.

Washington, technically, plays only one prime time game — a Thursday night matchup against the Bears that is a bit of a deja vu with respect to what may have been the worst game of 2022, when the Bears and Commanders combined for less than 20 points in a game where Carson Wentz played more than half his team’s offensive snaps with a broken finger.

Still, the Commanders will be in front of a 2nd national audience on Thanksgiving Day, when they travel to Dallas. While not technically a prime time game, it will offer the opportunity for huge exposure. Washington’s 2016 Thanksgiving day game was FOX’s most watched game ever to that point.

Also, the slate of games, as anyone who has ever enjoyed a full Sunday of Redzone knows, is much fuller at 1pm than in the late-game window, meaning a lot more national exposure for teams playing in the late-afternoon time slot. With the NFC East playing the NFC West this season, and with the Commanders matching up against the Broncos, Washington will be in the Sunday late-afternoon window 3 times — for games against Denver, San Francisco and the LA Rams.

Monday Night Double headers

I think that the concept of double headers on Mondays was something that resulted from the COVID rescheduling in 2020-21, but the league seems to be embracing it more and more. Interestingly, they are not taking the approach of an early-late double-header, but simultaneous or overlapping games. Here’s what ProFootballTalk has to say about it:

This year’s schedule includes three Mondays with games that will be on at the same time. On two Mondays, they’re staggered by an hour. On the final Monday, they start at the same time.

In Week Two, it’s Saints at Panthers on ESPN at 7:15 p.m. ET, and Browns at Steelers at 8:15 p.m. ET on ABC.

The next Monday night, it’s Eagles at Buccaneers at 7:15 p.m. ET on ABC and Rams at Bengals at 8:15 p.m. on ESPN.

In Week 14, a pair of games start at 8:15 p.m. ET. On ESPN, its Titans at Dolphins. On ABC, it’s Packers at Giants.

It’s an unusual strategy. Why not just play them back to back or play one on Monday and the next on Tuesday?

Regardless, the chances of getting a good game will be doubled on three Mondays this year. Maybe on one or more of them, we’ll get two good games.

I find it kind of interesting that, even with an additional 3 Monday night games, the league chose to let 4 teams go without appearing in a prime time matchup.

Monday night flex

For the first time, later in the season, if the Monday night matchup doesn’t look so good due to lack of competitiveness of one or both teams, Roger Goodell can make a decision to ‘flex’ a game from Sunday to Monday (and, of course, send the Monday game to Sunday afternoon). Let’s again rely on PFT to explain:

From Week 12 to Week 17, if the game scheduled for Monday Night Football is not looking like a good matchup, the league has the opportunity to move a Sunday afternoon game into Monday night. The league will make the final decision on flexing Monday night games 12 days in advance.

That’s better for ESPN and better for the fans watching on TV — no one wants to see two teams that are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs in prime time. But many fans who buy tickets don’t like it. If you have tickets for a late-season game, you have to be ready for the possibility that the league will change the kickoff time by more than 24 hours.

Not really taking advantage of this season’s flexibility

Fans have been told for quite some time now that the long-standing arrangement of NFC games on Fox and AFC games on CBS would become a thing of the past under the new broadcast contract. While the contract may have changed, it appears that old habits die hard. Let’s turn again to PFT for details:

Despite the league saying previously that the new TV contracts would eliminate the traditional CBS-AFC, Fox-NFC schedule, most Sunday afternoon games are remaining on the same network they would have been on with the old TV contracts.

In Week One, there are seven Sunday afternoon games with an NFC road team, and five of those seven games are on Fox, with only two on CBS. There are six Sunday afternoon games with an AFC road game, and five of those six games are on CBS, with only one on Fox.

It’s similar in Week Two: There are 12 Sunday afternoon games, and 10 of them maintain the NFC-Fox, AFC-CBS tradition, while Fox gets one AFC game and CBS gets one NFC game.

In Week Three there are 12 Sunday afternoon games, with nine maintaining the NFC-Fox, AFC-CBS alignment.

As the season goes on the NFL has flexibility to change which networks are showing which games to put the best games in front of the largest TV audiences, but the trend largely remains the same: Most NFC games will be on Fox and most AFC games will be on CBS.

That’s also clear from the networks’ own promotions: When the schedule was released, Fox trumpeted 10 “Notable 2023 matchups” it is showing, and nine of those 10 are NFC games. CBS announced nine “featured national games” from its schedule, and eight of those are AFC games.

So while the league has given itself more flexibility to move games across networks, for the most part, Sunday afternoon viewing habits won’t change: AFC games will mostly be on CBS, and NFC games will mostly be on Fox.


How do you feel about having two games on (some) Monday nights?

This poll is closed

  • 17%
    I think it’s great!!
    (57 votes)
  • 42%
    I like the concept, but would prefer it if the games didn’t overlap.
    (137 votes)
  • 39%
    I don’t like it.
    (125 votes)
319 votes total Vote Now


Which of the following most closely expresses how you feel about Washington’s increased national exposure in the ‘23 season (one TNF game; Thanksgiving Day; 3 games in the Sun late afternoon time slot)?

This poll is closed

  • 40%
    I wish they’d just play every Sunday at 1 pm
    (118 votes)
  • 40%
    I’m pretty satisfied with it; I like the fact that more NFL fans will get a chance to see our games.
    (116 votes)
  • 19%
    One prime-time game + on the road to Dallas for Thanksgiving is not enough! The schedule-makers need to show us more respect.
    (55 votes)
289 votes total Vote Now