Because Christmas Day is on Sunday this year, the NFL moved the bulk of its schedule to Saturday for week 16. This weekend, Fox has the NFL doubleheader TV rights, but is sending its #1 team of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman to call Vikings-Packers at 1pm ET instead of a 4:25 game. How rare is such an assignment? This is only the fourth time since 2004 that a network sent its top announcer crew to an early afternoon game on a day when that network owned the doubleheader rights.
Here are the only such instances in the past 12 seasons where the top team on the doubleheader network called a game in the early window:
- 2013 week 17 - CBS placed Jim Nantz and Phil Simms on Ravens-Bengals in the early window. Note: Since 2006, the NFL has allowed both CBS and Fox to televise a doubleheader on the final Sunday of the regular season. So the week 17 late doubleheader window is not exclusive to one network like it is for a typical NFL Sunday.
- 2011 week 17 - Fox assigned Buck and Aikman to Panthers-Saints at 1:00.
- 2008 week 12 - Fox sent Buck and Aikman to call 49ers-Cowboys in the early slot despite having rights to the late doubleheader slot (then at 4:15).
So the 2008 instance is the actually the only time since 2004 that a network holding exclusive doubleheader rights put its top team on an early game. For comparison, I found 23 cases of this between 1994 and 2004, so the relative rarity in recent years helps illustrate how important the late afternoon doubleheader window has become to the TV networks.
Another interesting aspect about the upcoming weekend is that CBS is sending its #1 team of Nantz/Simms to call a late afternoon game (Colts-Raiders) despite the fact that CBS has the singleheader. The 4:05 games tend to get limited regional distribution as they are aired against the featured 4:25 contest, so generally, the top crew gets assigned to an early game on a singleheader weekend.
But how unusual is this combination? Only twice since the 1998 season has the DH network assigned its top team to an early game while the singleheader network put its #1 crew on a late game that same day.
- 2004 week 14 - Fox had the doubleheader but sent Buck and Aikman to call Seahawks-Vikings while CBS placed Nantz and Simms on a late singleheader game (Jets-Steelers)
- 2002 week 11 - On this CBS doubleheader day, the #1 team of Greg Gumbel and Simms handled Bills-Chiefs early while Fox assigned its top team of Buck, Aikman, and Cris Collinsworth to call 49ers-Chargers in the late singleheader window.
For completeness, I found four other cases of this odd combination between 1994 and 1998.