Why did the NFL choose to replace Buccaneers-Raiders with Seahawks-Cardinals for its coveted Sunday Night Football time slot? To anybody outside of Arizona or Washington, that was far from the obvious decision.
The league had four different afternoon matchups to choose from:
You might say it's because Phoenix is closest to Vegas, and it was the least strenuous workaround logistically. But, Los Angeles, where the Chargers will play the Jaguars, is even closer, and Denver is just two states over.
You might say it's because it was the only afternoon matchup featuring two teams with winning records, but the NFL has never scheduled primetime games around records. The NFL cares about brands. There's a reason the Giants pollute our television screens in standalone games at least three times a year.
49ers-Patriots, and Chiefs-Broncos both feature brand-power with far more upside than Seahawks-Cardinals. A Week 4 Eagles-49ers matchup on Sunday Night Football out-rated a Week 5 Sunday Night Football matchup featuring the Vikings and Seahawks. The Chiefs drew a 74 share in Kansas City during their Monday matchup against the Bills. That means 74% of people watching television in Kansas City that night were watching the Chiefs. That's absurd.
The Seahawks are no ratings dud (the Cardinals tend to be), but Seahawks-Cardinals certainly will not pull the ratings Chiefs-Broncos, or 49ers-Patriots could've.
So, why did the NFL make the decision they did?
I think they're making a bet on Kyler Murray. Sure, Russell Wilson has something to do with it - he's in the middle of a would-be MVP year - but there's no way Wilson would be playing in primetime if the NFL, and NBC, didn't believe the opposing quarterback could keep pace with Seattle's offense.
I also think there's an element of projection here by the NFL. The country knows exactly who Patrick Mahomes is. Same for Jimmy Garoppolo and Cam Newton. All of those guys have played in the Super Bowl before. I think the NFL wants to feature the quarterback who could very well be in a Super Bowl this year (Russell Wilson), and the quarterback who they think could be in future Super Bowls (Kyler Murray).
This matters for future Cardinals fans. Arizona kids have never had the chance to grow up with a great quarterback. Kurt Warner was brought in as a veteran. Same with Carson Palmer. Following a guy for 15 years can change the trajectory of a fanbase forever. This matters for Steve Keim, who will surely use the bye week to take a victory lap of media appearances if the Cardinals win on Sunday night. This matters for Michael Bidwill, who wants to join the "cool kids" club of NFL owners, featuring Stan Kroenke and Jerry Jones (Bidwill deserves to be in).
The only person this probably doesn't matter all that much to is Kyler Murray, the self-critical, even-keeled quarterback around whom this decision might've been based. Kyler has bigger ideas than being primetime worthy. He often emphasizes wanting to be the best at what he does. Taking on the best at what he does in front of America is a start.