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Ch. 7 is favorite to simulcast Bills game with Pats on 'Monday Night Football'

Inquiring minds want to know: Which local TV station is ready for "Monday Night Football?"

The lone missing piece of the Buffalo Bills TV schedule is where the broadcast rights for the Bills' "Monday Night Football" game Oct. 29 with the New England Patriots will go.

When ESPN or the NFL Network has the rights to night games, the league sells the broadcast rights in the home markets of the participating teams to simulcast the coverage and maximize viewership.

WKBW-TV (Channel 7) is an ABC affiliate and ABC and ESPN are both owned by Disney, so you would think it would be the local favorite to get the first home "Monday Night Football" game in Buffalo since 2008. The station also had a long history of carrying "Monday Night Football" before the package moved from ABC to ESPN.

Channel 7 had the rights to any "Monday Night Football" games in 2016 and 2017 and carried the prime time Bills ESPN game at Seattle on Nov. 7, 2016. There was no Bills game on "Monday Night Football" last season.

According to sources, Channel 7's contract with ESPN has expired. However, typically former rights-holders may get a right of first refusal.

Channel 7 also has extra reason to bid higher than other local stations, because it doesn't have any other NFL games and it could use the Bills game as a weeklong promotional device to highlight its news department, which remains deep in third place in the market.

WIVB-TV (Channel 4) was the big winner in the schedule announced last week and has the least reason to bid high.

As a CBS affiliate, it carries 13 of the Bills 16 regular season games, including the first seven. With Bills games typically worth six figures in advertising, Channel 4 stands to make between $1.5 million to $2 million in revenue for those games.

Dominic Mancuso, Channel 4's general manager, declined to comment on whether his station would bid on the "Monday Night Football" game.

"We would never publicly disclose what programming we may or may not bid on," Mancuso said.

The general managers of WGRZ-TV (Channel 2, the NBC affiliate) and WUTV (Channel 29, the Fox affiliate), were more open to discussing the possibility.

Jim Toellner, the general manager of Channel 2, gets the benefit of carrying NBC's "Sunday Night Football." However, "Sunday Night Football" doesn't have a Bills game on the schedule.

Toellner said his station would bid on the "Monday Night Football" game "if we have a chance," which indicates some skepticism over whether there will be open bidding.

Nick Magnini, the general manager of Channel 29, has two Bills regular season games on his station against NFC opponents, Chicago and Detroit, playing at New Era Field.

He said, "I do," when asked if he was going to bid for the Bills-Patriots game.

By the way, if the Bills surprise every expert early in the season, their schedule can change.

In 2014, the NFL started flexing games as early as the fifth game. If somehow the Bills get off to a great start, a Sunday afternoon game can be moved to Sunday night with 12 days' notice.

It may be a bigger long shot than the Bills acquiring quarterbacks Sam Darnold or Baker Mayfield in Thursday's NFL Draft. I'm not sure a game has been flexed that early in the season.

ESPN clearly is thinking the Bills might make some trade news to move up Thursday from the No. 12 pick in the first round of the draft. It is only sending four reporters to NFL cities for its draft coverage and Jeff Darlington will be one of them at One Bills Drive. Josina Anderson is in Cleveland, Dianna Russini is with the New York Giants and Sal Paolantonio is with the New York Jets.

The draft also is being simulcast by the NFL Network and Fox (Channel 29) on Thursday and Friday nights during the first three rounds. On Saturday, ABC simulcasts ESPN's coverage of rounds four through seven.

If you look at the prime-time NFL schedules, especially "Sunday Night Football," it is obvious that schedule-makers believe more in the drawing power and strength of NFC teams. Of the 19 teams on the league's most important prime-time package, 11 are NFC teams. Three of the five teams with three "Sunday Night Football" appearances and five of the seven teams with two appearances are NFC teams.

Of course, more NFC teams are in bigger TV markets than AFC teams. The most surprising part of NBC's prime-time schedule may be the two appearances by San Francisco, which finished last season strong after acquiring quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, but still ended up with a 6-10 record.

The other teams with sub-.500 records last season to make the "Sunday Night Football" schedule once are the New York Giants, Chicago Bears, Oakland Raiders, Houston Texans and Green Bay Packers. The first four are in top 10 markets, while Green Bay has a national following because of its history.

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