Finally, the NFL gave in to the idea of flexing "Monday Night Football" games. It just hadn't activated that option.
On Thursday, the NFL made a little bit of history. The league announced that they flexed the Philadelphia Eagles at Seattle Seahawks game in Week 15 to Monday night. That replaces the Kansas City Chiefs at New England Patriots game.
Also, the NFL announced the three Saturday games for that week. The first game will be Minnesota Vikings at Cincinnati Bengals (1 p.m. ET), then Pittsburgh Steelers at Indianapolis Colts (4:30 p.m. ET), with Denver Broncos at Detroit Lions (8:30 p.m. ET) rounding out the night. All three games will air on NFL Network. The NFL had kept those slots open so it could put in three matchups that had playoff implications. All six teams in those Saturday games are still in playoff contention or likely to make the playoffs but battling for seeding.
The NFL has resisted flexing games not scheduled for Sunday because it can throw off fans' plans, especially those who are traveling. The Week 15 games on Saturday will be Dec. 16, with the Monday night game being Dec. 18. That doesn't give fans that much time to adjust their plans.
Ultimately, the desire to cater to the larger television audience (and the league's TV partners) won out. The Chiefs-Patriots matchup became a bad one because the Patriots are in the middle of their worst season in more than two decades. It was not likely to be a competitive game. The Eagles-Seahawks game is between a Philadelphia team with the best record in the NFL and a Seahawks team battling for a wild-card spot. It is much more compelling for ESPN and fans watching at home.
It can be difficult for the NFL to schedule compelling prime-time games months in advance. For example, when the schedule was released in May, this week's Monday night game between the Cincinnati Bengals and Jacksonville Jaguars looked like one of the better ones of the season. Then Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow got hurt and it's not an intriguing matchup anymore.
The ability to flex Monday night games is one way to avoid terrible matchups. Now that the NFL has tested the waters, we'll see more of it in the future.