Predicting what game will be flexed to Sunday Night Football in Week 18

GREEN BAY, WISCONSIN - JANUARY 01: Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers reacts to a play during the second quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field on January 01, 2023 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
GREEN BAY, WISCONSIN - JANUARY 01: Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers reacts to a play during the second quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field on January 01, 2023 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /

The NFL has one more week left on the schedule, and a big decision on its hands over what game to flex into the Sunday Night Football slot in Week 18. 

We’re down to the final week of the NFL season and the slate is shaping up to be a doozy.

The schedule has been locked in since last spring, but the times were purposefully left blank by the league so that the exact scenario playing out right now could work in the NFL’s favor. There are at least four matchups scheduled for Sunday that could determine whether division winners or whether a team makes the playoffs, and the league is going to take all of Monday to try and map out the best possible menu of games for fans to feast on.

The biggest question is which matchup will get flexed into the coveted Sunday Night Football slot?

One possible matchup is already off the board. The NFL announced that the Jaguars-Titans game next week will be played in primetime on Saturday night.

That was one of the more intriguing options, as it’s a de facto playoff game for the Jaguars and Titans. It’s not totally a win-or-stay-home situation, as the Jaguars have a path into the playoffs even with a loss, but it’s a game that will decide the AFC South crown.

When stacked up against the rest of the potential high-stakes matchups next weekend, giving the Jaguars-Titans game to Joe Buck and Troy Aikman on ABC and ESPN seems like a really easy and smart decision.

NFL schedule: What game will get flexed into SNF in Week 18?

Packers vs. Lions 

This is clearly a 1B option, but it’s one that NFL schedule makers could flex into Sunday Night and not have it get spoiled before the end of the Monday Night game.

We need to take a moment to ponder how insane it is that Detroit and Green Bay playing a meaningful game against one another this late in the season. The Packers are on a heater, winning four straight games and going from 4-8 to being in control of their own destiny. Meanwhile the Lions bounced back from a slow start and are in the playoff hunt — which for that franchise is impressive on its own.

The final NFC Wild Card spot could be decided by this game, making this a de facto playoff game and one with Lambeau Field as its backdrop. Aaron Rodgers at home with aa chance to complete a miraculous comeback or the insanely lovable Dan Campbell Lions realize their potential and reach the playoffs.

The sales pitch doesn’t need to be much longer than that.

One thing that complicates this is if the Seahawks win on Sunday. That would eliminate the Lions, but wouldn’t destroy the meaningfulness of the game as the Packers would still be in a position to win their way into the playoffs.

Giants vs. Eagles 

This is perhaps the riskiest of the potential flex options, albeit one laced with intrigue.

Green Bay-Detroit could be slightly affected by the results of the games earlier in the day, but the Giants-Eagles matchup could be rendered completely meaningless based on what happened in the earlier slates on Sunday.

Here’s what would make this game flex-worthy: If the Cowboys and 49ers win on Sunday, the Eagles would need to beat the Giants to clinch the No. 1 seed or risk falling deep into the Wild Card abyss.

Therein lies the risk, though. If the Cowboys or 49ers lose — or if they both lose — the Eagles clinch the No. 1 seed without needing to lift a finger. New York is already locked into the No. 6 seed, so there’s zero incentive to play any starters even before factoring in if the game is meaningful for the Eagles. It’s meaningless for the Giants, which already puts flexing this game at a disadvantage.

Would the Giants use Week 18 as a de facto bye week, or would it try and play to bump the Eagles out for the No. 1 seed if given the chance? Doing so would virtually ensure the two teams don’t meet in the playoffs unless its in the NFC Championship Game, where the Giants could meet the Eagles in the Divisional Round if things remain as they are.

Bills vs. Patriots 

This one is a bit of a Wild Card, no pun intended.

The NFL has already flexed the Chiefs-Raiders game to Saturday afternoon, meaning Kansas City could put a marker down for the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Buffalo owns a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Chiefs, but in this scenario would need to win in Week 18 to clinch the top spot.

In order to clinch, Buffalo would need to beat New England who has its own playoff scenario to handle next Sunday. If the Patriots win, they punch the final AFC ticket to the postseason and would lock up the No. 7 seed in the bracket. In doing so, Bill Belichick would knock a rival out of the No. 1 seed and bump the Bills into Wild Card Weekend.

It’s risky, since it’s contingent on what happens both tonight and in the Chiefs game on Saturday, but would arguably be the only matchup able to hold a candle to what everyone has already identified as the dream flex option in Week 18.

Bengals vs. Ravens 

This is it; this is the dream. If everything breaks the way it should, then this is a slam dunk wrapped in a grand slam and delivered as a hole-in-one.

Cincinnati and Baltimore meeting on Sunday Night Football with the AFC North title on the line is truly The Good Stuff, and deserves a national audience. There are de facto playoff games, as we’ve mentioned, and then there’s a heavyweight fight dripping with football narratives to indulge in.

For example:

  • The winner is AFC North champions, the loser drops to the Wild Card
  • A home playoff game is on the line
  • Lamar Jackson can make his triumphant return after missing the last four weeks
  • Joe Burrow and the Bengals can reverse course from a slow start and begin the defense of their AFC title by winning clinching the No. 3 seed.

There’s more, but the velvety richness of those narratives are enough to send any football fan into a frenzy. Appointment viewing is the name of the game for Sunday Night Football, and season finales don’t get more spicy than two AFC rivals meeting with insane playoff ramifications on the line.

If Cincinnati loses to Buffalo, this is a no-brainer to flex. Should the Bills somehow falter — and in the process fall out of the No. 1 seed — then it’s going to be hard to argue against flexing the Packers-Lions over a higher risk gamble like Giants-Cowboys.