Cowboys-Eagles Game Rescheduled by NFL: Playoff Conspiracy?

aSenior Analyst IDecember 23, 2008

What would the NFL playoffs be without America's team competing? The league doesn't want to find out.

Rather than keeping the Dallas Cowboys' matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1:00 PM time slot, the league has moved the game to 4:15 PM in an attempt to gain more viewers. While this may not seem like a big deal, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beg to differ.

You see, the Buccaneers play the Oakland Raiders at 1:00 PM. In order for Tampa Bay to make the playoffs, they must win their game and hope for a Cowboys loss against the Eagles.

But because a win by Tampa Bay eliminates Philadelphia from the postseason, the Eagles will have nothing but pride to play for when their game gets underway in the event of a Buccaneers' win. Philadelphia can also be eliminated mathematically if both Minnesota and Chicago win their 1:00 PM games.

When these crucial games were scheduled to start at the same time, this wasn't an issue. Each game would end around the same time and we'd know which teams would be representing the NFC in the playoffs by 4:00 PM.

But now that the Eagles will know their fate before their game kicks off, it could really affect their performance. "To learn after you have warmed up and just before kickoff that you have been eliminated can be devastating," writes Tim Cowlishaw of The Dallas Morning News.

So who does this benefit? The Dallas Cowboys.

Before their game starts, their competition will know whether or not they have a chance at furthering their season. They'll know if all of the hard work they have put in for the last four months amounted to anything.

If Tampa Bay wins, as they are expected to against the 4-11 Raiders, the Eagles will be rattled and will have to find motivation outside of their playoff chances. Dallas, meanwhile, will have a distracted opponent and an easier road to a wild card spot.

The Cowboys garner more media attention than any other team in professional football and according to the annual Harris Poll, are the most watched and rooted for out of the NFL's 32 franchises.

It's clear the NFL would want their top product competing in the playoffs and while they can say all they want that this rescheduling was an attempt to gain viewers this Sunday, it's also an assist to the Cowboys organization and an attempt to gain audiences during the NFL's version of "sweeps," the postseason.

While the Buccaneers have nobody to blame but themselves for being in this position, the NFL shouldn't tweak game times if they can change the outcome of a team's season.

If Philadelphia comes out and plays their hardest, then this won't be an issue. But if the Bucs win and a sluggish, unmotivated team takes the field Sunday against Dallas, consider this an early Christmas present from the NFL to the Cowboys and a way for the league to keep bringing in viewers and money during the playoffs, regardless of the fairness behind it.