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NBC flexes its muscles to show Bills

The NFL's decision to move the Buffalo Bills' home game with the New England Patriots to NBC's Sunday Night Football is a perfect opportunity to explain how the flex schedule works.

It doesn't necessarily mean that NBC will get that day's best game. The best Nov. 18 game right now would appear to be between the 6-2 New York Giants and the 6-2 Detroit Lions, two surprising teams.

However, Fox is allowed to protect five games over the six weeks of the flex schedule. It protected the Giants-Lions game. CBS decided against protecting any game in a week there aren't that many good ones involving AFC teams.

There isn't one Nov. 18 game involving AFC teams that features two clubs with winning records at this point. The best CBS game now appears to be either between Cleveland (5-3) and Baltimore (4-4) or Indianapolis (7-1) and Kansas City (4-4).

The only NFC game on Nov. 18 besides Detroit-Giants with teams above .500 is between Washington (5-3) and Dallas (7-1). However, Dallas has already has been on NBC three times, beat the Bills on Monday Night Football on ESPN and has two prime-time games coming on the NFL Network. That gives it the maximum of six prime-time games.

So NBC's best option was a game featuring the unbeaten Patriots and the Bills, who will have won five of their last six games if they beat winless Miami on Sunday.

*Of course, the NFL Network still isn't carried on Time Warner locally or nationally. Most of the eight games on its schedule aren't going to get fans excited. But two games have the potential to lead to protests or a march to satellite TV or a sports bar.

The Nov. 29 matchup between Green Bay and Dallas -- who have two losses between them -- could be must-see TV. And if the Patriots are 15-0 on Dec. 29, their NFL Network matchup with the Giants could be historic.

*All right, I probably have contributed to the confusion involving the Bills' prime-time history. The switch of the NFL's premier package from ABC's Monday Night Football to NBC's Sunday Night Football hasn't helped. In any event, the Nov. 18 game with the Pats will be the first home game on the NFL's premier broadcast package in 13 years. Back then, it was Monday Night Football on ABC. The Bills-Dallas game was the first home game on Monday Night Football in 13 years but the package is now on ESPN, a cable network. The Bills have had more recent prime-time home games on ESPN, including a 1999 Sunday game against the Jets and a 2005 Saturday game against Denver.

*Time Warner's announcement that it will launch Time Warner Sports Net on Nov. 19 isn't stop-the-presses material. I'm all for any way that more amateur athletics and minor sports will be covered. But a brief description of the net's plans indicate it isn't going to even attempt to fill the Empire Sports Network's shoes.

Instead, Time Warner is smartly putting together a consistent schedule that will make viewers more aware of when it televises sports events. It also is adding more live events, with the help of T-W's Rochester and Syracuse systems.

But T-W isn't hiring anyone full time, which tells you it is doing this on close to a shoestring. Anyone hoping that Time Warner would want to make a big splash by hiring former Channel 7 sports director John Murphy full time is in for a huge disappointment.

T-W's promos indicate that it plans to carry a hockey talk show, "The Enforcers," featuring former Sabres. The smart money is on Rob Ray and Matthew Barnaby, two of the team's classic fighters.

*The big winner in the NFL's decision to move the Nov. 18 Bills game with the Patriots to prime time is WGRZ-TV, the local NBC affiliate. If it isn't too late to sell out the advertising for the game, the prime-time telecast could generate somewhere between $100,000 and $150,000 for Channel 2 for commercials before the game, during the game and after the game. Meanwhile, Channel 4, the CBS affiliate, loses the game and the revenue for it. If the 42.1 local ratings for the Bills-Dallas game on ESPN is any indication, the Bills-Pats game should generate Super Bowl-like ratings in the high 40s.


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