Years from now, when the NFL and ESPN announce that they'll be scheduling Monday Night Football games with a lead-time of, say, a month instead of a year, business schools will be using Monday's St. Louis Rams contest against the Seattle Seahawks as a case study for the decision. It doesn't get much clearer than this: Last year, the Rams and the Seahawks were up-and-coming teams competing for a playoff spot out of the NFC West, where teams have the unique chance of being much more exciting than they are good and still working their way into postseason contention.
This year, the Rams are 2-10 and the Seahawks are 5-7. Sam Bradford is hurt, which means the exciting young quarterback a national TV audience gets to see could be either Tom Brandstater or Kellen Clemens. Meanwhile, the lowly San Francisco 49ers now have the second-best record in the NFC, making both teams entirely irrelevant in the postseason picture. Things have gotten so bad that a sudden recovery from A.J. Feeley could improve the ratings.
ESPN2's counterprogrammed pro bowling could outdraw this one. And that's why, the business school professor will say, the NFL decided that increased scheduling flexibility was worth the various trade-offs involved.