The NFL's regional programming rules are famously byzantine, but luckily the506.com cuts through the bullshit for you, providing weekly maps that allow us to answer the only question that really matters: Which fans are the most screwed this Sunday?
Week 14 winner: Panama City, Fla.
Last week we celebrated some regional TV markets that made the right move and switched their Sunday coverage to much better games mid-week. This week we have a market that made some very bad moves, not once but twice switching to a crappier game than what initially had been slotted. So congratulations to Panama City, Fla., which narrowly edged out Ottumwa, Iowa for top honors in Week 14.
We've reached an awkward point in the NFL season, with many of the playoff spots claimed early. Games with two bad teams never matter, but now neither do games pitting great team vs. bad team or even great team vs. great team (though those are still awesome). The only games that do matter, unfortunately, are between mediocre teams with wild-card spots on the line.
Like it or not, San Diego-Pittsburgh is one of these games. At 7-5, the Steelers hold the tie-break over the Bengals for the final wild-card spot in the AFC. The Chargers —who've somehow managed to go 4-8 with a +1 point differential—get a chance to play spoiler. This was the game that Panama City was supposed to have, until they switched to Miami-San Francisco.
At 5-7, Miami has played themselves out of contention, while the 49ers are close to clinching a playoff spot and are favored to win by 10. This game definitely does not matter. There are worse matchups in this slot (looking at you, Jets-Jaguars and Chiefs-Browns), but this one would have been a lot more exciting in 1984.
For those not familiar with Florida's geography, there's an old saying—the farther north you go, the further South you get." Indeed, northern Florida, including Panama City, has a lot more in common with neighboring Georgia and Alabama than it does with urban centers like Tampa and Miami.
So what's the football team of the Deep South? The answer, obviously, is a college football team, but the Falcons and the Panthers are probably decent picks for the NFL. They play each other this week, and Georgia, Alabama, the Carolinas, and the rest of northern Florida get to watch. Mississippi and Louisiana get Dallas-Cincinnati, a great matchup with huge playoff implications for both teams that as of Wednesday was supposed to be shown in Panama City. Instead, the folks there will watch the swooning Buccaneers take on the Eagles, who've lost their last eight.
Like most of the country, Panama City gets Saints-Giants in this slot. This game would have been incredible ... if the Saints hadn't blown their last two winnable games, against the 49ers and the Falcons. At 5-7 they're now on the outside looking in. It's not all bad, though: This is a fantastic game to hate-watch if you're hoping the New York Giants continue to cough up the NFC East to the Redskins or the Cowboys. Be careful though. The Giants are favored at -5, and this is right around the time they began their Super Bowl run in 2011.
h/t to Alan B., who brought Panama City's misfortunes to my attention.