The NFL has a friendly message for the conspiracy theorists among us who might have thought they spotted something suspicious in the decision to flex Sunday’s Patriots-Dolphins game on CBS — rather than the more compelling Texans-Colts matchup — from 1 p.m. to 4:25.
There’s nothing to see here — other than an afternoon of football games organized to have as much relevance on playoff seeding as possible.
Perhaps eyebrows were raised when the Texans-Colts game — featuring the emotional return of Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano from leukemia treatments, and a contest in which Houston can secure the No. 1 seed in the AFC — was passed over in favor of Patriots-Dolphins.
Tom Brady is always a ratings draw but the Dolphins have nothing to play for and little appeal, so one doesn’t have to wander far onto the NFL’s version of a grassy knoll to find that conspiracy theory.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft is the chairman of the NFL’s broadcast committee. Could it be that he pulled a few strings to make sure the Texans played before the Patriots so his team would have a better sense of what it was playing for before taking the field?
Fun theory . . . but there’s nothing to it, according to NFL spokesman Dan Masonson. He said the decision wasn’t about prioritizing the Patriots or Texans, and certainly not about giving one of them a small tactical advantage. It was to ensure that the Broncos-Chiefs game, also slated for 4:25 p.m. and not a candidate to be flexed because of its Mountain Time kickoff, matters as much as possible.
“The games are scheduled sequentially to have the most impact on the playoff race/seeding,’’ said Masonson via e-mail, noting that Texans-Colts is the national game at 1 p.m. “The Patriots are playing at 4:25 p.m. because that’s when the Broncos are playing. [Even if the Texans win], both teams are playing for the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye.”
In other words, the league is emphasizing the drama of having three teams scrambling to lock up the two first-round byes over everything else. The Texans and Broncos are both 12-3, while the Patriots are 11-4 but own tiebreakers over both by virtue of beating them head-to-head.
Had the Patriots remained at 1 p.m. and lost to the Dolphins, the Texans and Broncos would be locked in as the top two seeds, with the order dependent on the outcome of their games.
And had the Texans won at 1 p.m. while the Patriots lost at the same time, the Texans would be the No. 1 seed and the Broncos No. 2 no matter what Peyton Manning & Co. did against the Chiefs.
With the Patriots flexed, it is guaranteed that something is at stake beginning at 4:25.
“This way, all three games for the three top seeds have meaning,’’ Masonson said.