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In another sign that the relationship between the NFL and ESPN has vastly improved with John Skipper out of the picture, the NFL will flex two Week 18 games to ESPN on Saturday, January 8 at 4:30 p.m. and 8:15 p.m. ET.
The two games will air simultaneously on ABC and — for the first time — ESPN+. The main MNF crew — Steve Levy, Brian Griese, Louis Riddick — will call one game, with Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit, and Laura Rutledge on the sidelines for the other.
“Both games will have playoff implications (e.g. involving teams playing to stay alive for a Wild Card berth, Division title, conference seeding, first round bye, etc),” ESPN says.
In past seasons, the NFL excluded Saturday from the final week of the regular season, which was previously Week 17.
I still expect, as usual, NBC’s Sunday Night Football to gain the final week’s top matchup, with the NFL sending perhaps the 2nd and 3rd best games to ESPN for Saturday. The remaining matchups will be played on Sunday at 1:00 pm and 4:25 pm. (Note: the current scheduled start times for Week 18 matchups will likely change.)
Looking ahead, the following games in Week 18 will have both significant playoff implications and national interest:
Bengals at Browns, Packers at Lions, Patriots at Dolphins, Steelers at Ravens, Chiefs at Broncos, 49ers at Rams, Seahawks at Cardinals.
Look for ESPN or NBC to flex Steelers at Ravens. Based on reports, Week 18 could be Ben Roethlisberger’s final game in a Steelers’ — and maybe an NFL — uniform. Couple that storyline with the aura of the Steelers-Ravens rivalry, and there’s a game that could draw well over 20 million viewers.
The NFL will announce Week 18’s start times after Week 17.