For the third time since the NFL began its "flexible scheduling option" in Week 11, a Tampa Bay Buccaneers game has been moved to a more prominent time slot. That's a reflection of the Buccaneers' breakout performance in 2010 and, in the case of their Week 16 home game against the Seattle Seahawks, the likelihood of serious playoff hopes for both teams near season's end.
That December 26 Seattle-Tampa Bay game at Raymond James Stadium was originally scheduled to kick off at 1:00 p.m. ET. Now it will be moved to the 4:15 p.m. time slot where it will be made available to a larger percentage of the national audience.
The NFL announced their Week 16 flex scheduling changes on Monday afternoon, with the Bucs-Seahawks being one of three games to get a new time slot. The Minnesota Vikings game at Philadelphia, also originally scheduled for 1:00 p.m., has been moved into the Sunday evening time slot at 8:30 p.m. ET. It will now be televised nationally by NBC. The San Diego Chargers game at Cincinnati, which had been set for Sunday night, moves back to 4:05 p.m. ET and will be broadcast by CBS.
Thanks to their emergence as a playoff contender in 2010, which was unexpected by many outside observers, the Buccaneers have been a popular flex candidate. The team's original schedule called for all of its games except those on the West Coast to start at 1:00 p.m. ET; however, matchups against Baltimore and Atlanta in Weeks 12 and 13 were moved into the later time slot.
Now the Bucs and Seahawks will be more prominently featured in the season's penultimate week as both teams chase NFC playoff spots. Tampa Bay's 8-5 record is currently one-half game behind that of the 8-4 New York Giants, who play the Minnesota Vikings in Detroit on Monday night. The Giants would own the sixth playoff spot if the season ended before that game, but a loss by New York would create a three-way tie for that spot between them, the Buccaneers and the Green Bay Packers.
Seattle, meanwhile is a serious long shot in the Wild Card race at 6-7 but still has the NFC West division title well within its sights. The Seahawks are currently tied with the Rams for first place in the West, though St. Louis currently holds the tiebreaker advantage thanks to a Week Four victory over Seattle. The two teams meet again in Seattle in Week 17, which means the Seahawks could be fighting for a chance to make that game a showdown for the division title when they come to Tampa in Week 16.