Week 17 NFL schedule: Here's why the NFL decided to skip 'Sunday Night Football'

The NFL has flexed a game to the Sunday night slot in Week 17 the past several seasons, choosing the game with the most significance that does not affect the other games on the schedule. Put another way: The NFL cannot have the Sunday night game damage the competitive balance of the earlier games or vice versa. But this season is different, because there is not a game that applies, and as such, the NFL has decided to bail on scheduling a Sunday night game.

The league announced the news late Christmas Eve, delivering a big bag of coal to anyone who hoped to watch football after 8 p.m. ET on New Year's Eve. But don't be fooled: This is good, primarily because it means America will not have to watch a game that could get ugly quickly.

It also creates a proper competitive balance, as NFL vice president of broadcasting Howard Katz explained in a release. 

"We felt that both from a competitive standpoint and from a fan perspective, the most fair thing to do is to schedule all Week 17 games in either the 1 p.m. or 4:25 p.m. ET windows," Katz said.  "This ensures that we do not have a matchup on 'Sunday Night Football' on New Year's Eve that because of earlier results has no playoff implications for one or both of the competing teams."

There are a few things to unpack if you care to go deeper than "Oh I'll just watch that new Dave Chappelle standup special on Netflix instead." (Maybe you're the shallow type like that. No problem. It's your life, pal.) 

Competitive balance

The key here is that the league does not want a situation like the one we saw unfold in 2010, when the Bengals played the Jets. Cincinnati and New York both believed they might need a win to either clinch the playoffs or clinch a division title. But the Bengals actually clinched the division title before the game and were locked into their seed. The Jets desperately needed to win in order to make the playoffs. Marvin Lewis, coaching against his old buddy Rex Ryan, sat all his players, which allowed the Jets to get into the postseason. The Jets would promptly beat the Bengals in the playoffs the next week (whoops, Marvin), but the point is that the Jets got a significant competitive advantage by the Bengals deciding to rest their starters. 

Ratings

The NFL's ratings are probably down a tic or so this season overall, because it's 2017 and everyone's ratings are down. There are more options for everyone, so some people do not spend as much time watching sports. Don't listen to your weird Uncle Steve over Christmas lunch: The ratings are not down because of protests. But the NFL does not like the optics of bad ratings, and how do you think a questionable matchup on Sunday night/New Year's Eve would rate? Horrifically. If the game was bad, the ratings would be historically terrible. So the league can sell it as helping fans -- and that is true -- while also avoiding a matchup no one will watch.

What were the options?

There were a few different possibilities for the Week 17 'SNF' game. None of them were ideal.

Panthers at Falcons: This was probably the most interesting option from a matchup standpoint, because it's a rivalry where the teams don't like each other. But the Panthers would need the Buccaneers to beat the Saints earlier Sunday, otherwise they would be locked into the No. 5 slot for the playoffs. They could sit Cam Newton and avoid injury, or at the very least yank their starters early. The Falcons need to win to get in, unless the Seahawks lose. So Seattle losing and New Orleans winning would lock these teams into the Nos. 5 and 6 seeds before the game started. Even worse, Seattle and New Orleans winning would give the Falcons everything to play for and the Panthers nothing to play for. That's a huge disadvantage to the Seahawks and would provide ugly football.

Jaguars at Titans: The Titans need to win to get into the playoffs ... unless something weird with the Ravens, Bills and Chargers losing happens. The Jaguars are in the playoffs and could only care about winning if the Steelers lose their next two games, thanks to Jacksonville losing in San Francisco in Week 16. Jacksonville is likely locked into the No. 3 seed in the AFC. You could even argue the Jaguars would have incentive to sit their players if they prefer to play the Titans in the playoffs instead of the Chargers or Bills. They could attempt to control their opponent, which flies in the face of competition. 

Jets at Patriots: In theory the Patriots could need this game to clinch the No. 1 seed in the AFC, but come on. Stop it. 

Browns at Steelers: We joked about this on Twitter, but legit, it would be fun to see the Browns go for 0-16 against the Steelers' backups, assuming Pittsburgh's playoff seed was decided.

What is the Week 17 schedule now?

Maybe go shopping during the early games? Or start exercising? Eat some collards and hopping John perhaps? Whatever you do, don't expect to be highly entertained.

Game

Time (all ET)

TV

Packers @ Lions

1 p.m. 

Fox

Texans @ Colts

1 p.m. 

CBS

Bears @ Vikings

1 p.m.

Fox

Jets @ Patriots

1 p.m.

CBS

Redskins @ Giants

1 p.m.

Fox

Cowboys @ Eagles

1 p.m.

Fox

Browns @ Steelers

1 p.m. 

CBS

Panthers @ Falcons*

4:25 p.m.

Fox

Bengals @ Ravens*

4:25 p.m.

CBS

Chiefs @ Broncos

4:25 p.m.

CBS

Raiders @ Chargers

4:25 p.m.

CBS

49ers @ Rams

4:25 p.m.

Fox

Bills @ Dolphins*

4:25 p.m.

CBS

Cardinals @ Seahawks

4:25 p.m.

Fox

Saints @ Buccaneers*

4:25 p.m.

Fox

Jaguars @ Titans*

4:25 p.m.

CBS

*Game was flexed to later in the day

The bottom line is this: No one wants to spend New Year's Eve watching a boring NFL game. There are seven divisions already clinched and only three playoff spots up in the air, plus only three teams that are currently out of the playoffs who can still make the postseason. 

Week 17 is going to be tame and spending the end of the regular season dragging through a second-stringer slog would be terrible. 

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Will Brinson joined CBS Sports in 2010 and enters his seventh season covering the NFL for CBS. He previously wrote for FanHouse along with myriad other Internet sites. A North Carolina native who lives... Full Bio

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