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Game 256: The history of the final flexed game of the season

In 2006, the NFL created a schedule that would allow a game of playoff importance, ideally a win-and-in or a division title scenario, to be flexed to the final Sunday night game, the 256th game on the schedule. Prior to that, the season would often end on a meaningless Monday night game, but a crucial game would be buried in regional afternoon coverage.

Since 1978, the regular season has ended on one final primetime game. The following is a list of what was at stake at kickoff of those games and any noteworthy occurrences in the footnotes. In the Result column, a superscript number indicates the seed that was attained in that game, and does not include seeds that were clinched prior to the game.

Sunday night final regular season games

Year Matchup Division Implications Result
2018 IND-TEN AFC South Play-in game; both eliminated with tie (division or out moot by HOU win earlier) 6IND 33-17
2017 No game No compelling matchup without giving a team a competitive advantage; avoided a low-rated game interfering with east coast midnight on New Year’s Eve
2016 GB-DET NFC North Division or wild card 4GB 31-24 (6DET)
2015 MIN-GB NFC North Division title or wild card 3MIN 20-13 (5GB)
2014 CIN-PIT AFC North Division only, both teams had clinched a playoff berth[1] 3PIT 27-17 (5CIN)
2013 PHI-DAL NFC East Division or out 3PHI 24-22
2012 DAL-WAS NFC East Division or out (WAS wild card moot because of prior results) 4WAS 28-18
2011 DAL-NYG NFC East Division or out 4NYG 31-14
2010 STLRams-SEA NFC West Division or out; worst record to claim a division or a playoff seed (non-strike season) 4SEA 16-6
2009 CIN-NYJ Interdivisional Play-in for NYJ, seed position for CIN 5NYJ 37-0 (4CIN)
2008 DEN-SD AFC West Division or out 4SD 52-21
2007 TEN-IND AFC South Play-in for TEN, IND had clinched #2 6TEN 16-10
2006 CHI-GB NFC North None (play-in for GB moot because of prior results, CHI had clinched #1). [2] GB 26-7
2005 STLRams-DAL Interdivisional* None (DAL play-in moot just before kickoff) STL 20-10
2004 DAL-NYG NFC East* None[3] NYG 28-24
2003 PIT-BAL AFC North* None (PIT out, BAL had clinched #4) BAL 13-10 (OT)

*-Flex game option was not available prior to 2006.

Monday Night final regular season games

Note: Only games after 2001 are at the conclusion of a 256-game schedule. The only pseudo-flexible matchup in this set is the 1982 season, when the NFL attempted to recover an additional week’s worth of games from the scheduled games that were not played due to the players’ strike.

Year Matchup Division Implications Result
2002 SF-STLRams NFC West None (STL out, SF had clinched #4) STL 31-20
2001 MIN-BAL Interconference None; BAL had clinched #5 by virtue of SEA winning by fewer than 44 points (otherwise it would have been a play-in game for BAL)[4] BAL 19-3
2000 DAL-TEN Interconference None (TEN had clinched #1); Christmas Day TEN 31-0
1999 SF-ATL NFC West None ATL 34-29
1998 PIT-JAX AFC Central None (JAX had clinched division and #3) JAX 21-3
1997 NE-MIA AFC East Division title or wild card; winner to host loser in wild card round 3NE 14-12 (6MIA)
1996 DET-SF Interdivisional None (SF had clinched #4) SF 24-14
1995 DAL-ARI NFC East Home-field advantage for DAL[5] 1DAL 37-13
1994 SF-MIN Interdivisional Division or wild card for MIN, SF had clinched home-field advantage 3MIN 21-14
1993 PHI-SF Interdivisional None (SF had clinched #2)[6] PHI 37-34 (OT)
1992 DET-SF Interdivisional None (SF had clinched home-field advantage)[7] SF 24-6
1991 CHI-SF Interdivisonal Division and first-round bye for CHI; SF already out on tiebreakers SF 52-14 (4CHI)
1990 LARams-NO NFC West Play-in for NO 6NO 20-17
1989 CIN-MIN Interconference Play-in for CIN, division or out for MIN; Christmas Day 3MIN 29-21
1988 CHI-MIN NFC Central Home wild card game for MIN, CHI had clinched home-field advantage 4MIN 28-27
1987 NE-MIA AFC East None (both teams eliminated with IND win day before) NE 24-10
1986 NE-MIA AFC East Division or out for NE 3NE 34-27
1985 LARaiders-LARams Interconference Home-field advantage for Raiders, Rams had clinched #2[8] 1RAI 16-6
1984 DAL-MIA Interconference Home-field advantage for MIA, play-in game for DAL[9] 1MIA 28-21
1983 DAL-SF Interdivisional Division and first-round bye or wild card for SF; DAL had clinched wild card 2SF 42-17
1982 DAL-MIN Interdivisional First-round home game for MIN in 8-team NFC Super Bowl Tournament; DAL had clinched #2[10] 4MIN 31-27
1981 OAK-SD AFC West Division or out for SD 3SD 23-10
1980 PIT-SD Interdivisional Division and home-field advantage or out for SD; PIT already out on tiebreakers 1SD 26-17
1979 DEN-SD AFC West For division title or wild card, SD also for home-field advantage 1SD 17-7 (5DEN)
1978 NE-MIA AFC East Home wild card game for MIA; NE had clinched #2[11] 4MIA 23-3
  1. [1]GB-DET, a game for the NFC North between 11-4 teams, went unselected due to NFC/Fox games being flexed 4 straight years
  2. [2]One of the first “Brett Favre’s last game before retirement.”
  3. [3]Eli Manning’s first win as starter.
  4. [4]Rescheduled Week 2 game was postponed after Sept. 11 attacks. The original Week 17 finale was Sunday night WAS-NO (moved MNF to avoid New Year’s Eve)
  5. [5]Setting for 1996 film Jerry Maguire, except the movie Cardinals were playing for a playoff berth
  6. [6]Overtime was extended by an untimed down due to a roughing the kicker foul
  7. [7]Joe Montana, coming back from 2 years off, played the second half in his last game as a 49er
  8. [8]Marcus Allen wins rushing title, breaks Eric Dickerson’s season record for yards from scrimmage
  9. [9]Dan Marino sets season records for yards, completions; Mark Clayton sets season record for TD catches
  10. [10]Strike season, blizzard two days earlier caused hole in Metrodome roof leading to rush repairs, Tony Dorsett touchdown run for “99 yards and a half”
  11. [11]Patriots coach Chuck Fairbanks suspended for game by owner Billy Sullivan because Fairbanks told the team that he would be quitting after the season for the University of Colorado job
Ben Austro
Ben Austro
Ben Austro is the editor-in-chief and founder of Football Zebras and the author of So You Think You Know Football?: The Armchair Ref's Guide to the Official Rules (on sale now)

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4 thoughts on “Game 256: The history of the final flexed game of the season

  1. Errors/omissions:

    In 2002, it was SF that had clinched, not STL.

    In 2014, the note should also mention CAR-ATL which was a direct play in for the 4 seed and was unselected.

    In 2016, a tie would not have forced a rematch in the wild card round, as GB and DET would be the 4 and 6 seeds by record alone.

    1. Thanks. Fixed. As for the 2014 matchup, although CAR-ATL was a play-in scenario for the #4 seed, both teams only won 6 games, making the WC/division/bye scenario in the NFC North the compelling choice for primetime. The game that was selected was inferior (to decide home-field wild card), and the purpose of the note is to reflect a specific reason why.

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