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Ch. 4 is one sure NFL schedule winner; Marrone gets credit for MNF date

The big local TV winner with the NFL schedule announced Tuesday is Channel 4, the local CBS affiliate.

Because of the suspension of the NFL blackout rule this season, WIVB-TV is scheduled to carry 12 Buffalo Bills games this season and could carry as many as 13.

The dozen includes a simulcast of The NFL Network game with the New York Jets on Nov. 12 that is produced by CBS as part of its Thursday Night Football arrangement. CBS gives its affiliates in home markets the right to simulcast the games without it going out to bid.

The 13th game that Channel 4 is expected to carry is the game with Jacksonville from London, England on Oct. 25 that will be carried in the teams’ markets but is only being streamed online nationally.

That 9:30 a.m. Sunday game is the only one that hasn’t been assigned a network, but it is widely believed to be a CBS game that will go to Channel 4 because both the Bills and Jags are AFC teams.

A year ago, Channel 4 was a local TV loser. It lost a home game with New England and road games with Chicago and Detroit to WUTV, the local Fox affiliate, because of a new NFL policy that cross-flexed games from traditional TV partners.

The new policy is estimated to have cost Channel 4 about $375,000 in advertising revenue that went to Channel 29, since every Bills game is believed to average about $125,000 in advertising revenue for stations that carry them.

The 13 games on Channel 4 that almost assuredly will be the 13 highest-rated TV programs in 2015 in Buffalo should generate between $1.3 million and $1.6 million in advertising for the station this season.

WUTV isn’t as fortunate this season. It is only guaranteed to carry home games against the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys, NFC opponents.

Channel 7, the local ABC affiliate, would appear to be the likely winner to get the right to pay to carry the simulcast of the Nov. 23 Monday Night Football game with the New England Patriots if ESPN still considers it the incumbent broadcaster for last carrying a MNF game in 2009.

In the past, the incumbent broadcaster gets first crack at the game and the game only gets open to bid if a deal isn’t struck. However, it’s been several years since the Bills have had a MNF game so it is unclear if that tradition will be honored.

If it is honored, Channel 7 also is most likely to carry ESPN’s preseason game with the Cleveland Brown on Aug.20.

Channel 2, the local NBC affiliate, likely will be shutout of Bills games again this season unless the team has such a surprisingly successful season that one of its late-season games will be flexed to NBC's Sunday Night Football. If that’s the case, either Channel 4 or Channel 29 would lose the game.

By the way, new Bills Coach Rex Ryan certainly has enhanced the Bills national profile, but credit for the team’s national appearance on MNF really should go to former Coach Doug Marrone.

The Bills’ 9-7 record under Marrone last season just about guaranteed a MNF date. Every NFL team that finished at .500 or above last season is on the MNF schedule this season. Traditionally, finishing above .500 is close to a guarantee that even a small market team gets a MNF date.

It isn’t as much of a factor for big market teams. The New York Jets, the Giants, the Chicago Bears, the Atlanta Falcons, the Cleveland Browns, the Minnesota Vikings and Washington all received MNF games despite finishing below .500 last season. The one small market team on the MNF schedule with a below .500 record last season is New Orleans, which has had some success in recent years behind franchise quarterback Drew Brees.

Every team in the NFL gets a prime time game on The NFL Network.

Finally, the Bills late-season schedule would appear to be a test of the suspension of the blackout rule. The team plays home games on Dec. 27 against Dallas and Jan. 3 against the New York Jets that would appear to be natural sellouts. If those games don’t sellout and are poorly attended because of the weather, the Bills and the league might blame the suspension of the blackouts.

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